The present study investigated the effect of the administration of oxypurinol (40 mg/kg), an inhibitor of xanthine oxidase, on adenosine and adenine nucleotide levels in the rat brain during ischemia and reperfusion. The brains of the animals were microwaved before, at the end of a 20-min period of cerebral ischemia, and after 5, 10, 45, and 90 min of reperfusion. Cerebral ischemia was elicited by four-vessel occlusion with arterial hypotension to 45-50 mm Hg. Adenosine and adenine nucleotide levels in the oxypurinol-pretreated (administered intravenously 20 min before ischemia) rats were compared with those in nontreated animals exposed to the same periods of ischemia and reperfusion. Oxypurinol administration resulted in significantly elevated ATP levels at the end of ischemia and 5 min after ischemia, but not at 10 min after ischemia. ADP levels were also elevated, in comparison with those in the control rats, at the end of the ischemic period. Conversely, AMP levels were significantly reduced at the end of ischemia and during the initial (5 min) period of reperfusion. Adenosine levels were lower in oxypurinol-treated rats, during ischemia, and in the initial reperfusion phase. Oxypurinol administration resulted in a significant increase in the energy charge both during ischemia and after 5 min of reperfusion. Physiological indices, namely, time to recovery of mean arterial blood pressure and time to onset of respiration, were also shortened in the oxypurinol-treated animals. These beneficial effects of oxypurinol may have been a result of its purine-sparing (salvage) effects and of its ability to inhibit free radical formation by the enzyme xanthine oxidase. Preservation of high-energy phosphates during ischemia likely contributes to the cerebroprotective potency of oxypurinol.