Spinal motoneurons are highly vulnerable to kainate both in vivo and in vitro. Tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) and plasmin have recently been shown to mediate kainate-induced neuronal death in the mouse hippocampus in vivo. The aim of the present study was to determine whether tPA also mediates the kainate-induced death of motoneurons in vitro. A motoneuron-enriched neuronal population was isolated from the ventral spinal cord of wild-type (WT) and tPA-deficient (tPA-/-) mouse embryos. WT and tPA-/- neurons were cultured on WT and tPA-/- spinal glial feeder layers, respectively. WT and tPA-/- co-cultures were morphologically indistinguishable. Expression of tPA in WT co-cultures was demonstrated using RT-PCR. WT and tPA-/- co-cultures were exposed to kainate for 24 h. The neurotoxic effect of kainate did not differ significantly between WT and tPA-/- cultures. The plasmin inhibitor alpha2-antiplasmin did not protect WT neurons against kainate-induced injury. These results indicate that the plasmin system is not a universal mediator of kainate-induced excitotoxicity.