Because of ontogenic influences on the pathophysiologic mechanisms of brain injury in the perinatal brain, and in particular, the incomplete development of adenosine receptor systems, we investigated the potential for adenosine to provide cerebro-protection in a well established newborn rat model of hypoxia-ischemia. Fifteen litters of postnatal d 7 animals were subjected to unilateral carotid ligation and exposure to hypoxia (8% oxygen) for 3 h. Immediately after hypoxia-ischemia, animals received either the adenosine deaminase inhibitor deoxycoformycin (DCF; 2.5 mg/kg intraperitoneally) or the adenosine uptake inhibitor propentofylline (PPF; 10 mg/kg intraperitoneally); paired littermates received an equivalent volume of normal saline. On postnatal d 14, injury or protection was assessed by differences in hemispheric weights, morphometric determinations of infarct area, and histopathologic analyses. DCF resulted in a 34% (p = 0.02) and 31% (p = 0.03) reduction in hemispheric weight disparities and infarct area, respectively; for PPF, these reductions were 46% (p = 0.03) and 32% (p = 0.04), respectively. Light microscopic examinations of striatum, thalamus, hippocampus, and cortex revealed that both drugs significantly improved histologic scores as well. Measurements in six separate litters indicated that neither drug significantly reduced core body temperature for at least 6 h postadministration. These findings indicate that potentiation of endogenous adenosine levels in the perinatal brain can significantly ameliorate brain injury. Each of these treatment strategies was effective even when administered after the hypoxic-ischemic insult. Thus, further investigations of adenosinergic therapies are warranted in this and other perinatal models of cerebral ischemia to elucidate in detail their potential for clinical application.