The question of whether the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of intracellular water changes after brain injury was addressed by using 133Cs as an indicator to report on the state of the intracellular environment. Cesium is an NMR-detectable potassium analog that accumulates in the intracellular space and is detectable in rat brain after being added to the animal's diet. The ADC of cesium was measured before and after the death of the rat. The cesium ADC fell from 0.91 +/- 0.05 x 10(-3) mm2/s (mean +/- SEM, n=5) in the alive rat to 0.71 +/- 0.05 x 10(-3) mm2/s within 20 min (the best time resolution of the experiment) of the death of the animal and stayed at this value for at least 3 h (p < 0.001). Assuming that the ADC of cesium reflects motion in the intracellular environment, these results support the idea that there are changes associated with cell injury that would cause a reduction in the ADC of intracellular water. Hence, one factor contributing to the decrease in water ADC after brain injury is a change in the ADC of intracellular water.