Mammals can barely survive total-body ionizing irradiation greater than 10 Gy. To date, there are few drugs available for radioprotective therapy under such circumstances. Inosine, a natural derivative of adenosine, has been known to provide powerful protection for many kinds of cells and tissues against various insults both in vitro and in vivo. In the present study, we examined whether inosine was also beneficial for mammals subjected to an absolutely lethal total-body ionizing irradiation. Immediately after adult Balb/c mice were exposed to (60)Co gamma-rays at a single dose of 12 Gy, a moiety of them were administered daily with inosine or adenosine, either at doses of 375 or 750 micromol/kg up to death, and their body weight and survival time were recorded. Some irradiated mice were administered inosine or adenosine daily at doses of 750 micromol/kg and assessed for spatial memory abilities using the Morris water maze. The results demonstrated that, although inosine could not prevent body weight loss in irradiated mice, it was able to significantly prolong their survival time at doses of 750 micromol/kg. Moreover, inosine but not adenosine could suppress spatial memory deficit in irradiated mice. The data suggested that inosine had protective effects on mammals suffering from total-body ionizing irradiation at a single lethal dose.