The purpose of this study was to evaluate quantitative apparent diffusion changes in the center of infarction by measurement of the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC), and to investigate the influence of ischemia on the contralateral hemisphere. By diffusion echo-planar imaging (EPI) 52 patients showing cerebral infarction were studied within 5 h to >12 months after onset of clinical symptoms. Using three diffusion gradient strengths (b1=30 s/mm(2); b2=300 s/mm(2), b3=1100 s/mm(2)) ADC maps were generated. After onset of ischemia, ADC in the center of infarction was lower than in the contralateral regions of human brain. At first ADC declined for approximately 28 h to a minimum of approximately 150x10(-8) cm(2)/s. Then the ADC reincreased and reached a "pseudonormalization" after approximately 5 days. Chronic infarctions did show much higher ADC values (2000x10(-8) cm(2)/s) than unaffected areas. Neither localization nor size of infarctions showed a significant influence on this time course. In the center of infarction diffusion is isotropic. Even brain regions of the contralateral hemisphere are influenced by cerebral ischemia. In these regions ADC is higher than for physiological conditions. The ADC also declines especially for the first 2-3 days after onset of symptoms, also followed by reincrease. The ADC calculation enables determination of the onset of infarction more exactly than is possible using only diffusion-weighted imaging. Diffusion in the center of infarction is isotropic; hence, orientation of the diffusion gradients has no significant influence on sensitivity of measurements. The calculation of the ADC ratio based on data derived from the center of infarction and the contralateral hemisphere seems to be critical because the ADC in the unaffected contralateral hemisphere also changes.