The risk of focal infarction secondary to the induced reversible arrest of local arterial flow during microsurgical dissection of middle cerebral artery (MCA) aneurysms was evaluated further to define the optimal approach to temporary arterial occlusion. To compare the effectiveness of potential brain-protection anesthetics, a group of patients treated with the intravenous agents propofol, etomidate, and pentobarbital, administered individually or in combination, was compared to a group treated with the inhalational agent isoflurane. Forty-nine consecutive MCA aneurysm surgeries involving the temporary clipping of the parent vessel were retrospectively reviewed. Thirty-eight patients received intravenous brain-protection (IVBP) anesthesia. Groups of patients with and without infarctions, and receiving and not receiving IVBP anesthesia, were compared based on the duration and nature of temporary arterial occlusion. Postoperative radiographic evidence of new infarction was used as the threshold for failure of occlusion tolerance. The overall infarction rate was 22.4% (11 of 49 patients), including 15.8% (six of 38 patients) in the IVBP group versus 45.5% (five of 11 patients) in the group that did not receive brain protection (NBP). In the NBP group, the mean duration of temporary occlusion was 3.9 +/- 2.2 minutes for patients without infarction versus 12.2 +/- 4.3 minutes for patients with focal infarction (p < 0.01). In contrast, the mean duration was 13.6 +/- 10.6 minutes for patients without infarction and 18.5 +/- 9.9 minutes for patients with infarction in the IVBP group. All patients (four of four) in the NBP group who underwent occlusion lasting 10 minutes or longer suffered an infarction versus five of 23 patients in the IVBP group (p < 0.0001). Patients with multiple aneurysms were found to be at increased risk of developing focal infarction, whereas those treated with intermittent temporary clip application were at decreased risk. It is concluded that patients in whom focal iatrogenic ischemia is induced during MCA aneurysm clip ligation have a significant advantage compared with those receiving isoflurane when they are given pentobarbital as the primary neuroprotective agent or when they receive propofol or etomidate titrated to achieve electroencephalographic burst suppression, particularly if more than 10 minutes of occlusion time is required. It is also concluded that 10 minutes is a general guideline for safe, temporary occlusion of the MCA. The use of intermittent temporary arterial occlusion and its use in patients with multiple aneurysms need further evaluation before specific recommendations can be made.