The consequences of cerebral ischemia were studied in three different strains (BDF, CFW, and BALB/C) of mice. The different strains exhibited significant differences in susceptibility to 24-h focal ischemia. Following middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO), infarct volumes (mm3) were 5 +/- 3 in BDF, 15 +/- 5 in CFW, and 23 +/- 3 in BALB/C mice (p < 0.05). MCAO plus ipsilateral common carotid artery occlusion (CCAO) resulted in infarct volumes of 15 +/- 9 in BDF, 38 +/- 10 in CFW, and 72 +/- 12 in BALB/C mice (p < 0.05). In addition, MCAO plus CCAO produced death by 24 h in 42% of CFW and 67% of BALB/C mice, but not in any BDF mice (p < 0.05). CCAO alone produced multifocal hemispheric infarctions in 36% of BALB/C mice but not in the other two strains. Brains of all mouse strains subjected to sham surgery were free of any ischemic injury. Arterial blood pressures, blood gases, and blood cell profiles were relatively similar for the three mouse strains. However, carbon black studies of the cerebrovascular anatomy revealed an incomplete circle of Willis (i.e., a significant decrease in the frequency of patent posterior communicating arteries) for BALB/C compared with BDF mice (p < 0.05), with CFW mice being intermediary. Based on these anatomical data, BALB/C mice also were evaluated following transient global brain ischemia produced by bilateral CCAO. BALB/C mice exhibited a > 85% reduction in cortical microvascular perfusion and EEG power within 1 min of bilateral CCAO. Also, hippocampal neuronal CA1 damage and mortality over 7 days were related to the duration of global brain ischemia (p < 0.05). These data demonstrate a significant difference between mouse strains in their sensitivity to cerebral ischemia that appears to be related, at least in part, to the functional vascular anatomy at the level of the posterior communicating arteries. In particular, we point out the potential usefulness of BALB/C mice as a sensitive and reproducible model of focal and global ischemia.