Undemutrition during early life is known to cause deficits and distortions of brain structure although it has remained uncertain whether or not this includes a diminution of the total numbers of neurons. Estimates of numerical density (e.g. number of cells per microscopic field, or number of cells per unit area of section, or number of cells per unit volume of tissue) are extremely difficult to interpret and do not provide estimates of total numbers of cells. However, advances in stereological techniques have made it possible to obtain unbiased estimates of total numbers of cells in well defined biological structures. These methods have been utilised in studies to determine the effects of varying periods of undernutrition during early life on the numbers of neurons in various regions of the rat brain. The regions examined so far have included the cerebellum, the dentate gyrus, the olfactory bulbs and the cerebral cortex. The only region to show, unequivocally, that a period of undernutrition during early life causes a deficit in the number of neurons was the dentate gyrus. These findings are discussed in the context of other morphological and functional deficits present in undernourished animals.