Dephosphorylation processes of target proteins are critical to the reversible regulation of intracellular signal transduction systems. Further, brain damage such as ischemic insult induces marked changes in protein kinase activity. To study these changes more thoroughly, specific monoclonal antibodies of the A and B subunits of calcineurin (protein phosphatase 2B) were raised, and regional alterations in the immunoreactivity of calcineurin in the rat hippocampus were investigated after a transient forebrain ischemic insult causing selective and delayed hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cell damage. In normal rats it was found that both the calcineurin A and the B subunits showed high immunoreactivity in the dendritic fields of the hippocampal formation. The immunoreactivity of subunit A in the strata oriens, the radiatum of the CA1 subfield and in the stratum lucidum of the CA3 subfield was most intense, whereas the immunoreactivity in the other CA3 subfields and in the dentate gyrus was relatively low. In contrast, the dendritic fields of the hippocampal formation were equally immunoreactive to calcineurin subunit B, although the stratum lucidum of the CA3, where the mossy fibers from the dentate granule cells terminate, showed a very high immunoreactivity of the B subunit. After transient forebrain ischemia in the CA1 subfield, where selective pyramidal cell death occurred two days after this ischemia, a marked loss of immunoreactivity in both subunits was observed, along with morphological pyramidal cell damage. A recovery of the immunoreactivity of A and B subunits in the strata oriens and radiatum was later noted 30 days after ischemia. In the stratum lucidum of the CA3, the immunoreactivity of both the A and B subunits was transiently depressed from 6 to 24 h, followed by a marked immunoreactivity enhancement from four to 30 days after ischemia. Further, in the histologically intact dentate gyrus, both the immunoreactivity of the A and B subunits in the molecular layer were transiently enhanced from four to 14 days after ischemia, particularly in the supragranular layer. The results clearly indicate that the protein dephosphorylation systems were markedly altered in the whole hippocampal formation during the recirculation period following ischemia. Further, the transient depression in the calcineurin immunoreactivity seen in the mossy fiber terminals may reflect modulated synaptic activity of the dentate granule cells, which may play a pivotal role in the delayed and selective death of the CA1 pyramidal cells. Thus, calcineurin appears to be an excellent marker enzyme for the detection of neuronal activity and synaptic plasticity after brain damage, such as an ischemic insult.