Young and aged rats were subjected to cerebrovascular insufficiency (CVI) for 3 and 9 weeks. At the end of each time period, local cerebral blood flow (lCBF), spatial memory function, 31P- and 1H-NMR spectroscopy and imaging of the brains were evaluated in vivo. Morphometric counts of CA1 hippocampal neuron damage and staining for glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) were done post-mortem. Results show that after 3 weeks of CVI, cortical and hippocampal lCBF was significantly reduced in young and aged animals respectively. In addition, young and aged rats at 3 weeks following CVI showed spatial memory deficits in the Morris water maze and elevation of 31P-phosphomonoester as measured by non-invasive NMR spectroscopy. At the same time period, in vivo 1H-microimaging (MRI) of brains showed areas of high signal intensity (suggesting local edema) localized asymmetrically to the right hippocampal region in young and aged CVI rats. Morphometry of the hippocampal CA1 sector at post-mortem confirmed the in vivo MRI changes and demonstrated that a significant percentage of the CA1 pyramidal cells were damaged after CVI. Nine weeks after CVI, hippocampal CBF reductions, spatial memory impairment, spectroscopic-microimaging changes and CA1 sector cell damage continued to be observed in the aged animals but were resolved in the young rat brains. In addition, GFAP immunoreaction progressively increased in the hippocampus of aged rats subjected to CVI for 9 weeks. It is concluded that cognitive, metabolic and morphologic damage was significantly more severe and longer lasting in aged than young rat brain after chronic CVI. The deficits observed in this rat model appear to mimic the early pathology reported in Alzheimer's disease and suggest that the present model could provide fundamental clues relative to the etiology and possible management of this dementia.