The close correspondence between neural activity in the brain and cerebral blood flow (CBF) forms the basis for modern functional neuroimaging methods. Yet, the temporal characteristics of hemodynamic changes induced by neuronal activity are not well understood. Recent optical imaging observations of the time course of deoxyhemoglobin (HbR) and oxyhemoglobin have suggested that increases in oxygen consumption after neuronal activation occur earlier and are more spatially localized than the delayed and more diffuse CBF response. Deoxyhemoglobin can be detected by blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In the present study, the temporal characteristics of CBF and BOLD changes elicited by somatosensory stimulation in rat were investigated by high-field (9.4 T) MRI. With use of high-temporal-resolution fMRI, it was found that the onset time of the CBF response in the somatosensory cortex was 0.6 +/- 0.4 seconds (n = 10). The CBF changes occurred significantly earlier than changes in HbR concentration, which responded after 1.1 +/- 0.3 seconds. Furthermore, no early increases in HbR (early negative BOLD signal changes) were observed. These findings argue against the occurrence of an early loss of hemoglobin oxygenation that precedes the rise in CBF and suggest that CBF and oxygen consumption increases may be dynamically coupled in this animal model of neural activation.