Changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) using laser-Doppler and microvascular O2 oxygen tension using oxygen-dependent phosphorescence quenching in the rat somatosensory cortex were obtained during electrical forepaw stimulation. The signal-averaged CBF response resulting from electrical forepaw stimulation consisted of an initial peak (t = 3.1 +/- 0.8 seconds after onset of stimulation), followed by a plateau phase that was maintained throughout the length of the stimulus. In contrast, microvascular O2 tension changes were delayed, reached a plateau level (t = 23.5 +/- 1.7 seconds after the onset of stimulation) that remained for the length of the stimulus and for several seconds after stimulus termination, and then returned to baseline. Using Fick's equation and these dynamic measurements, changes in the calculated cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen (CMRO2) during functional stimulation were determined. The calculated CMRO2 response initially was comparable with the CBF, but with protracted stimulation, CMRO2 changes were approximately one-third that of CBF changes. These results suggest that a complex relation exists, with comparable changes in CBF and CMRO2 initially occurring after stimulation but excessive changes in CBF compared with CMRO2 arising with protracted stimulation.