Cerebral ischemia is accompanied by many of the cardinal features of acute inflammation such as neutrophil and platelet activation and accumulation. We sought to determine whether circulating neutrophils or platelets contribute to brain injury in a rabbit model of thromboembolic stroke that includes a fixed duration of superimposed systemic hypotension. We randomized 18 rabbits to receive either antineutrophil antiserum (n = 6), antiplatelet antiserum (n = 5), or nonimmune serum (n = 7). We assessed brain ischemia by measuring cerebral blood flow, intracranial pressure, and infarct size. Following the intracarotid administration of an autologous clot, cerebral blood flow in all groups fell to less than 5 ml/100 g/min during induced hypotension. After restoration of baseline blood pressure, mean cerebral blood flow in neutropenic animals recovered to 20-30 ml/100 g/min while that in control and thrombocytopenic rabbits remained at less than 10 ml/100 g/min. Intracranial pressure in control animals rose steadily to a final value of 241% of baseline, while a much smaller increase (148% of baseline) was noted in the thrombocytopenic group; no change from baseline was evident in the neutropenic group. Infarct size was significantly (p less than 0.05) reduced in the neutropenic group but not in the thrombocytopenic group. These results suggest that neutrophils may be important contributors to ischemia-induced brain injury whereas the role of platelets is more subtle.