Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) can result from neonatal asphyxia, the pathophysiology of which is poorly understood. We studied the acute evolution of this disease, using magnetic resonance imaging in an established animal model. HIE was induced in neonatal rabbits by a combination of common carotid artery (CCA) ligation and hypoxia. Serial diffusion and perfusion-weighted magnetic resonance images were acquired before, during, and after the hypoxic interval. Focal areas of decreased apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) were detected initially in the cortex ipsilateral to CCA ligation within 62 +/- 48 min from the onset of hypoxia. Subsequently, these areas of decreased ADC spread to the subcortical white matter, basal ganglia (ipsilateral side), and then to the contralateral side. Corresponding perfusion-weighted images showed relative cerebral blood volume deficits which closely matched those regions of ADC change. Our results show that MRI diffusion and perfusion-weighted imaging can detect acute cell swelling post-hypoxia in this HIE model.