There is increasing evidence that regional ischemia plays a major role in secondary brain injury. Although the cortex underlying subdural hematomas seems particularly vulnerable to ischemia, little is known about the adequacy of cerebral blood flow (CBF) or the vasoresponsivity within the vascular bed of contusions. The authors used the xenon-enhanced computerized tomography (CT) CBF technique to define the CBF and vasoresponsivity of contusions, pericontusional parenchyma, and the remainder of the brain 24 to 48 hours after severe closed head injury in 10 patients: six patients with one contusion and four with two contusions, defined as mixed or high-density lesions on CT scanning. The CBF within the contusions (29.3 +/- 16.4 ml/100 g/minute, mean +/- standard deviation) was significantly lower than both that found in the adjacent 1-cm perimeter of normal-appearing tissue (42.5 +/- 15.8 ml/100 g/minute) and the mean global CBF (52.5 +/- 17.5 ml/100 g/minute) (p < 0.004, repeated-measures analysis of variance). A subset of seven patients (10 contusions) also underwent a second Xe-CT CBF study during mild hyperventilation (a PaCO2 of 24-32 mm Hg). In only two of these 10 contusions was vasoresponsivity less than 1% (range 0%-7.6%); in the rim of normal-appearing pericontusional tissue, it was 0.4% to 9.1%. The authors conclude that CBF within intracerebral contusions is highly variable and is often above 18 ml/100 g/minute, the reported threshold for irreversible ischemia. Intracontusional CBF is significantly reduced relative to surrounding brain parenchyma, and CO2 vasoresponsivity is usually present. In the contusion and the surrounding parenchyma, vasoresponsivity may be nearly three times normal, suggesting hypersensitivity to hyperventilation therapy. Given this possible hypersensitivity and relative hypoperfusion within and around cerebral contusions, these lesions are particularly vulnerable to secondary injury such as that which may be caused by hypotension or aggressive hyperventilation.