To clarify the effect of experimental brain injury on regional CBF (rCBF), repeated rCBF measurements were performed using radiolabeled microspheres in rats subjected to fluid-percussion traumatic brain injury. Three consecutive microsphere injections in six uninjured control rats substantiated that the procedure induces no significant changes in hemodynamic variables or rCBF. Animals were subjected to left parietal fluid-percussion brain injury of moderate severity (2.1-2.4 atm) and rCBF values were determined (a) prior to injury and 15 min and 1 h following injury (n = 7); and (b) prior to injury and 30 min and 2 h following injury (n = 7). At 15 min post injury, there was a profound reduction of rCBF in all brain regions studied (p less than 0.01). Although rCBF in the hindbrain had recovered to near-normal by 30 min post injury, rCBF in both injured and contralateral (uninjured) forebrain areas remained significantly suppressed up to 1 h post injury. At 2 h post injury, recovery of rCBF to near-normal values was observed in all brain regions except the focal area of injury (left parietal cortex) where rCBF remained significantly depressed (p less than 0.01). This prolonged focal oligemia at the injury site was associated with the development of reproducible cystic necrosis in the left parietotemporal cortex at 4 weeks post injury. Our results demonstrate that acute changes in rCBF occur following experimental traumatic brain injury in rats and that rCBF remains significantly depressed up to 2 h post injury in the area circumscribing the trauma site.