The purpose of the present study was to quantify the early changes which occur on diffusion-weighted imaging following focal cerebral ischaemia. We have developed a method for the remote occlusion of the middle cerebral artery in the rat, allowing early changes to be monitored and images to be acquired before and after ischaemia under identical conditions. Sequential diffusion-weighted images were acquired before and for up to 6 h following the occlusion. The data show that a hyperintense area appears soon after occlusion which expands during the first 2 h. It has previously been shown that the hyperintensity observed after ischaemia is linked to events associated with energy failure. Our findings are in good agreement with previous pathophysiological studies of focal ischaemia, which suggest a growing of the energy depleted area. In conclusion, our data extend the usefulness of diffusion-weighted imaging to the study of the early spatial evolution of the most compromised area after focal ischaemia. Diffusion-weighted imaging may constitute a very powerful tool to investigate pharmacological therapies which may interact with this evolution, both in experimental and clinical studies.