This study investigated the role of spontaneous and induced spreading depression (SD) on the evolution of focal ischemia in vivo. We induced focal ischemia in 12 rats using the middle cerebral artery suture occlusion (MCAO) method. Chemical stimulation of nonischemic ipsilateral cortex by potassium chloride application (KCl group; n = 7) and saline (NaCl group; n = 5) was performed at 15, 30, 45, and 60 minutes following MCAO, and SD was detected electrophysiologically. Ischemic lesion volumes assessed over 15-minute intervals, evaluated by continuous apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of water mapping, demonstrated that the ischemic region increased significantly during 15-minute time epochs with a single SD episode (36.5 +/- 12.9 mm3, mean +/- SD) or multiple SD episodes (39.8 +/- 22.3) compared with those without SD (13.9 +/- 11.5) (p = 0.0009). Infarct volume at postmortem 24 hours after MCAO was significantly larger in the KCl group, with more total SDs (237.8 +/- 13.8) than the NaCl group (190.5 +/- 12.6) (p = 0.0001). This study demonstrates that ischemia-related and induced SDs increase significantly ischemic lesion volume in vivo, supporting the hypothesis for a causative role of SD in extending focal ischemic injury.