Cerebral ischemia is followed by a local inflammatory response that is thought to participate in the extension of the tissue damage occurring in the postischemic period. However, the mechanisms whereby the inflammation contributes to the progression of the damage have not been fully elucidated. In models of inflammation, expression of the inducible isoform of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) is responsible for cytotoxicity through the production of large amounts of nitric oxide (NO). In this study, therefore, we sought to establish whether iNOS is expressed in the ischemic brain. Rats were killed 6 h to 7 days after occlusion of the middle cerebral artery. iNOS expression in the ischemic area was determined by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction. Porphobilinogen deaminase mRNA was detected in the same sample and used for normalization. In the ischemic brain, there was expression of iNOS mRNA that began at 12 h, peaked at 48 h, and returned to baseline at 7 days (n = 3/time point). iNOS mRNA expression paralleled the time course of induction of iNOS catalytic activity, determined by the citrulline assay (17.4 +/- 4.4 pmol citrulline/micrograms protein/min at 48 h; mean +/- SD; n = 5 per time point). iNOS immunoreactivity was seen in neutrophils at 48-96 h after ischemia. The data provide molecular, biochemical, and immunocytochemical evidence of iNOS induction following focal cerebral ischemia. These findings, in concert with our recent demonstration that inhibition of iNOS reduces infarct volume in the same stroke model, indicate that NO production may play an important pathogenic role in the progression of the tissue damage that follows cerebral ischemia.