Xanthine dehydrogenase and oxidase activities increased by 87% in rat brain slices after 30 min in vitro ischaemia. A further 41% increase was induced by 30 min simulated reperfusion of ischaemic slices. No conversion from the dehydrogenase to the oxidase activity was observed. The increment of enzyme activity was not due to neosynthesis of the enzyme, since it was not affected by the addition of cycloheximide during the ischaemic incubation. The increased oxygen-dependent form of the enzyme could aggravate the ischaemic brain injury by free radicals production, in particular after reperfusion.