Free radicals have been suggested to be largely involved in the genesis of ischemic brain damage, as shown in the protective effects of alpha-phenyl-N-tert-butyl nitrone (PBN), a spin trapping agent, against ischemic cerebral injury. In the present study, the effects of PBN as well as MCI-186, a newly-developed free radical scavenger, and oxypurinol, an inhibitor of xanthine oxidase, were evaluated in a rat transient middle cerebral aretery (MCA) occlusion model to clarify the possible role of free radicals in the reperfusion injury of brain. The volume of cerebral infarction, induced by 2-h occlusion and subsequent 2-h reperfusion of MCA in Fisher-344 rats, was evaluated. The administration of PBN (100 mg/kg) and MCI-186 (100 mg/kg) just before reperfusion of MCA significantly reduced the infarction volume. In contrast, oxypurinol (100 mg/kg) failed to show any preventive effect on the infarction. These results suggest that free radical formation is involved in the cerebral damage induced by ischemia-reperfusion of MCA, and that hydroxyl radical is responsible for the reperfusion injury after transient focal brain ischemia. It is also suggested that xanthine oxidase is not a major source of free radicals.