BACKGROUND: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is considered an important stroke treatment strategy. BACKGROUND: To determine whether normobaric oxygen is neuroprotective, and, if so, what the therapeutic time window is. METHODS: Experiment 1-Serial diffusion- and perfusion-weighted MRI (DWI and PWI) was performed after middle cerebral artery filament occlusion (MCAO) in rats randomized to FiO(2) 30% (normoxia) or FiO(2) 100% (hyperoxia). Experiment 2-48-hour lesion volumes were analyzed in rats subjected to 2-hour MCAO and randomized to normoxia or hyperoxia starting 15, 30, or 45 minutes after MCAO and ending 15 minutes after reperfusion. RESULTS: Experiment 1-Lesion apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) values were persistently low in normoxic animals. In hyperoxia-treated rats, ADC values in cortical border zones showed progressive recovery from 66 +/- 3% of contralateral before hyperoxia, to 104 +/- 20% at approximately 2 hours. Striatal ADC values showed early but ill-sustained improvement. ADC lesion volumes increased progressively in the normoxia group. In the hyperoxia group, ADC lesion volumes tended to decrease after starting hyperoxia; however, lesions later increased in size, and 2-hour lesion volumes were not significantly different from baseline. PWI showed stable right MCA hypoperfusion in all animals. Experiment 2-Hyperoxia within 30 minutes significantly reduced total and cortical lesion volumes at 48 hours after stroke. Striatal lesion volumes were significantly reduced in the hyperoxia-15 group. CONCLUSION: In rats subjected to transient stroke, 100% oxygen administered within 30 minutes salvages ischemic brain tissue, especially in the cerebral cortex. Reducing the time to treatment enhances the degree of neuroprotection.