In this study the authors determined the effect of papaverine on regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the angiographically normal arteriolar beds of patients with arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) who underwent transfemoral superselective angiography. Middle cerebral artery (MCA) branch vessels were catheterized during 10 procedures performed in nine patients. The mean (+/- standard deviation) largest AVM diameter was 4.4 +/- 1 cm. Regional CBF was measured by recording the washout of a bolus of xenon-133 injected through the microcatheter. In a dose-ranging study. rCBF and MCA pressure in two patients were repeatedly measured after 3-minute infusions of papaverine at 0.07, 0.7, and 7 mg/minute. In a single-dose study, an additional eight patients received only the highest dose of papaverine administered over a 3-minute period. In the dose-ranging study, CBF increased from baseline in a dose-dependent fashion. In the single-dose study, papaverine increased in rCBF 103%, from 48 +/- 11 to 95 +/- 23 ml/100 g/minute at an MCA pressure of 55 +/- 23 mm Hg. Increase in rCBF was linearly related (y = 2.2x - 17, r2 = 0.84; p = 0.001) to baseline MCA pressure (range 22-84 mm Hg). Papaverine increases rCBF in a direct proportion to baseline MCA pressure, even at low baseline pressures. Selective infusion of vasodilators should be investigated in acute cerebral hypotension to facilitate either primary or collateral recruitment of CBF by aiding spontaneous autoregulatory vasodilation. In addition, rCBF monitoring may be useful in determining the most effective intraarterial dose of papaverine while minimizing complications due to hyperemia.