It is investigated whether intrathecal fibrinolysis may prevent subacute hydrocephalus after subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). In 19 cats, SAH was induced by the intracisternal infusion of 1 ml/kg body weight of fresh autologous blood at a rate of 0.6 ml/min. Eleven of those animals were treated by intrathecal fibrinolysis performed 24 hours after experimental SAH by intracisternal infusion of 3 mg of recombinant tissue plasminogen activator. Included were eight animals suffering from experimental SAH and four healthy animals retained for control. A computed tomographic scan performed 24 hours after the SAH displayed an acute hydrocephalus from the experimental procedure. Cerebrospinal fluid outflow resistance was 71 +/- 5.0 mm Hg/ml/min in the healthy animals, 265 +/- 19.8 mm Hg/ml/min in the nontreated animals 7 days after SAH, and 151 +/- 6.4 mm Hg/ml/min in the recombinant tissue plasminogen activator-treated animals 7 days after SAH (mean +/- standard deviation; changes significant with P less than 0.01). Postmortem planimetry of both lateral ventricles gives a mean of 3.7 +/- 2.7 mm2 in the healthy animals, 11.1 +/- 3.9 mm2 in the nontreated group after SAH (P less than 0.01), and 3.5 +/- 1.1 mm2 in the animals treated with recombinant tissue plasminogen activator. Intracranial pressure monitoring demonstrated marked intracranial pressure waves only in the nontreated animals after SAH. It is concluded that intrathecal fibrinolysis may prevent subacute hydrocephalus after experimental SAH.