The temporal evolution of cerebral infarction was examined in rats subjected to transient occlusion of both common carotid arteries and the right middle cerebral artery. After severe (90-min) ischemia, substantial right-sided cortical infarction was evident within 6 h and fully developed after 1 day. After mild (30-min) ischemia, no cortical infarction was present after 1 day. However, infarction developed after 3 days; by 2 weeks, infarction volume was as large as that induced by 90-min ischemia. These data suggest that infarction after mild focal ischemia can develop in a surprisingly delayed fashion. Some evidence of neuronal apoptosis was present after severe ischemia, but only to a limited degree. However, 3 days after mild ischemia, neurons bordering the maturing infarction exhibited prominent TUNEL staining, and DNA prepared from the periinfarct area of ischemic cortex showed internucleosomal fragmentation. Furthermore, pretreatment with 1 mg/kg cycloheximide markedly reduced infarction volume 2 weeks after mild ischemia. These data raise the possibility that apoptosis, dependent on active protein synthesis, contributes to the delayed infarction observed in rats subjected to mild transient focal cerebral ischemia.