Fifteen patients undergoing surgery within 48 hours of aneurysm rupture were administered recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (rt-PA) directly into the basal subarachnoid cisterns after minimal surgical clot removal and aneurysm clipping. Preoperatively, 13 patients had diffuse or localized thick subarachnoid blood clots on computerized tomography (CT), and two had diffuse thin clots. The rt-PA was given as a single intraoperative injection of 7.5 mg (one patient), 10 mg (nine patients), or 15 mg (five patients). Postoperative cisternal drainage was employed in three patients. All patients except one demonstrated partial to complete cisternal clot clearance on CT scans within 24 hours after surgery. The patient who showed no clot reduction was the only patient in this series to develop symptomatic vasospasm and was the only fatality, dying 8 days after rupture. No vasospasm was seen on follow-up cerebral angiography in six of the 14 responding patients, and mild-to-moderate arterial narrowing was seen in at least one major cerebral artery in the remaining eight patients. Severe angiographic vasospasm was not seen, although the patient who died did not undergo repeat angiography. There was one major complication early in the series which seemed clearly related to treatment, and that was a large extradural hematoma occurring within several hours of craniotomy. Intrathecal fibrinolytic treatment appears effective in clearing subarachnoid clot and reducing vasospasm, and may be associated with acceptable risks if given to patients with large-volume subarachnoid hemorrhages at high risk for severe vasospasm.