We have previously reported concordant changes in cerebral intravascular oxygenation measured by near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and mean arterial blood pressure (MAP) in premature infants. We hypothesized that the cerebral oxygenation changes are caused by MAP-induced alterations in cerebral blood flow (CBF) and studied these parameters in neonatal piglets (n = 6). Changes in cerebral intravascular oxygenation were measured by NIRS from the hemoglobin difference (HbD) signal (oxyhemoglobin-deoxyhemoglobin). CBF was measured by the radioactive microsphere technique. The cerebral circulation was also monitored by Doppler determinations of CBF velocity (time average mean velocity) in the anterior cerebral artery. Hypotension to <50% of baseline MAP was achieved by a ligature around the ascending aorta. Arterial oxygenation was maintained constant by mechanical ventilation. As observed in our studies of premature infants, cerebral HbD and MAP showed concordant changes. Hypotension was accompanied by significant decreases both in CBF (42.8 +/- 12.5% of baseline p < 0.01) and HbD (-65.0 +/- 22.0 micromol/L x dpf, p < 0.01). HbD was significantly correlated with MAP (p < 0.05) and time average mean velocity (p = 0.01). Importantly, decreases in cerebral total hemoglobin (HbT), a measure of cerebral blood volume, did not correlate significantly with decreases in MAP. We conclude that 1) decreases in cerebral intravascular oxygenation, as assessed by NIRS, observed with decreases in MAP reflect a decline in CBF, and hence oxygen delivery, 2) the HbD signal is more sensitive to changes in CBF than the HbT signal, and 3) NIRS recordings may have clinical utility in detecting cerebral ischemia.