The principal cause of mortality in patients with acute liver failure (ALF) is brain herniation resulting from intracranial hypertension caused by a progressive increase of brain water. In the present study, ex vivo high-resolution 1H-NMR spectroscopy was used to investigate the effects of ALF, with or without superimposed hypothermia, on brain organic osmolyte concentrations in relation to the severity of encephalopathy and brain edema in rats with ALF due to hepatic devascularization. In normothermic ALF rats, glutamine concentrations in frontal cortex increased more than fourfold at precoma stages, i.e. prior to the onset of severe encephalopathy, but showed no further increase at coma stages. In parallel with glutamine accumulation, the brain organic osmolytes myo-inositol and taurine were significantly decreased in frontal cortex to 63% and 67% of control values, respectively, at precoma stages (p<0.01), and to 58% and 67%, respectively, at coma stages of encephalopathy (p<0.01). Hypothermia, which prevented brain edema and encephalopathy in ALF rats, significantly attenuated the depletion of myo-inositol and taurine. Brain glutamine concentrations, on the other hand, did not respond to hypothermia. These findings demonstrate that experimental ALF results in selective changes in brain organic osmolytes as a function of the degree of encephalopathy which are associated with brain edema, and provides a further rationale for the continued use of hypothermia in the management of this condition.