The mechanisms underlying autoregulation of CBF were studied in 19 rabbits using laser-Doppler flowmetry. A cranial plexiglas window was chronically inserted in the skull with dental cement under general anesthesia. The animals then were reanesthetized 5-7 days later and subjected to aortic bleeding while CBF was measured with the probe placed on the window. In the first set of experiments, MABP was decreased (from 90 to 30 mm Hg) and was maintained constant for 1 min. During the first seconds, CBF followed the steep decrease of MABP. Then, CBF increased and reached a plateau within 3-13 s, depending on the severity of hypotension. Hyperemia occurred when blood was restored, and the CBF recovered from this posthypotensive hyperemia with a rapid phase (within 2 s) and a slow phase (total recovery within 1 min). The lower limit of autoregulation was found to be 40 mm Hg. An increase in CBF due to papaverine showed that vasodilation was not maximal below this limit. In the second set of experiments, the rabbits were subjected to four episodes of hypotension at 40 mm Hg each but of different durations (from 2-3 to 60 s). The posthypotensive hyperemia was not influenced by the duration of hypotension, but the time of the total recovery phase increased with the duration of hypotension. We conclude that there exist rapid adaptive mechanisms leading to autoregulation and that the vasodilation is not dependent upon the duration of hypotension.