The present study investigated effects of human umbilical cord blood (HUCB) cells on sensorimotor, cognitive, and histological outcome in rats subjected to transient middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO). Halothane anesthetized adult male Wistar rats were subjected to transient MCAO for 2 h. HUCB cells (mononuclear 1-5x10(7) or Lin(-) cells 1-5x10(5)) were administered intravenously after 24 h recovery. The limb-placing test was performed on postoperative days 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 16, and 20. In addition, beam-walking and cylinder tests were used to assess sensorimotor function at baseline, and on postoperative days 4, 12, and 20. Morris water-maze was used to assess cognitive performance on postoperative days 22-24. Subsequently, rats were perfused for measurement of infarct volumes and detection of HUCB cells by immunohistochemistry (MAB1281). MCAO rats showed a partial spontaneous recovery in sensorimotor function during the follow-up. However, the recovery profile was similar in MCAO controls and in MCAO rats that received HUCB cells. HUCB did not affect impaired water-maze performance of MCAO rats. Only few human nuclei-specific MAB1281-positive cells were detected in the ipsilateral hemisphere in MCAO rats that received HUCB cells. Infarct volumes did not differ between the experimental groups. A group of additional rats were used to further study biodistribution of intravenously given (111)In-oxine-labelled mononuclear HUCB cells in MCAO and sham-operated rats. SPECT imaging data indicated a high tracer uptake in the lung, liver, spleen, and kidney, but not in the brain immediately after administration or 24 h post-administration. The present study suggests that HUCB cells do not improve functional recovery or histological outcome in MCAO rats after systemic administration because of limited migration of cells in the ischemic brain.