The involvement of adenosine A3 receptors in normal and pathologic functions of the brain remains to be defined. Previous studies have shown that chronic preischemic administration of the agonist [N6-(3-iodobenzyl)-5'-N-methylcarboxoamidoadenosine or IB-MECA) results in a significant protection of neurons in selectively vulnerable brain regions and in an equally significant reduction of the subsequent mortality. Acute administration of the drug, on the other hand, resulted in a pronounced worsening of these parameters. We now report that the effect of administration of IB-MECA depends on the timing of treatment with respect to the onset of the focal insult, and provide the first data supporting speculation that treatment with adenosine A3 receptor agonists may decrease the infarct size following focal brain ischemia. Treatment with IB-MECA administered 20 min prior to transient middle cerebral ischemia (MCAOt = 30 min) resulted in a significant increase of the infarct size (p < 0.01), whereas administration 20 min after ischemia resulted in statistically significant decrease of the infarct volume. Postischemic treatment results in improved neuronal preservation, decreased intensity of reactive gliosis, and pronounced reduction of microglial infiltration. The data indicate that the effects of adenosine A3 receptor stimulation depend on the differential impact of these receptors on both neuronal and non-neuronal elements of the cerebral tissue, for example, astrocytes, microglia, and vasculature.