The behavior of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) was studied in cats following release after 1-h middle cerebral artery (MCA) occlusion. The regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was determined by hydrogen clearance method in the caudate nucleus and the cerebral cortex. The BBB was assayed with Evans blue (EB) tracer and by immunohistochemical peroxidase-antiperoxidase (PAP) method. Following release of MCA occlusion, there were two openings of the BBB, separated by a refractory period. The first opening, occurred shortly after recirculation; this was associated with rCBF below 15 ml/100 g/min during the ischemic period and a pronounced reactive hyperemia promptly following release of MCA occlusion. A refractory period of the BBB was indicated by the absence of EB leakage in cats injected with the tracer 30 min before killing at 3 h after recirculation, although the rCBF values in these animals were even lower (6 +/- 1 ml/100 g/min) during occlusion, and all of them showed a pronounced hyperemia after recirculation. The occurrence of the previous BBB opening in these animals was confirmed by the PAP staining. The second opening of the BBB was observed at 5 and 72 h after recirculation in cats which were injected with EB 30 min before killing, and which showed rCBF below 15 ml/100 g/min during occlusion, followed by a pronounced reactive hyperemia. No EB extravasations were observed at any time in cats in which the rCBF during occlusion was above 15 ml/100 g/min and which failed to show a marked reactive hyperemia.