Immediate postlesion reorganization of the somatosensory cortical representation was examined in adult rats. Response properties of small clusters of neurons were recorded in the area of the primary somatosensory cortex (SI) devoted to the contralateral forepaw representation. Electrophysiological maps were elaborated on the basis of the sensory ‘submodality’ (cutaneous or noncutaneous) and the location of the peripheral receptive fields (RFs) of layer IV neurons. Recordings were made prior to, and from 1 to 12 h after, induction of a focal neurovascular lesion to the SI cortex that initially destroyed a part (8.5%) of the cutaneous representation. Moreover, the influence of an anti-ischaemic substance (piracetam) on lesion-induced changes was analysed. The main observations were: (i) a gradual outward expansion of the area of the functional lesion, which was smaller in the piracetam-treated (PT) rats than in the control, placebo-treated (PL) rats; (ii) a substantial remodelling of the spared representational zones, both in cortical sectors adjoining the site of injury and those remote from the site; (iii) a significant postlesion increase in the size of cutaneous RFs in the PT rats, but not in the PL rats; (iv) a better preservation of RF submodality and topographic organization in the PT maps than in the PL maps; and (v) a decrease in neuronal responsiveness to cutaneous stimulation which was less pronounced in the PT than in the PL rats. Our results can be ascribed to a rapid change in the balance of excitatory and inhibitory connections which leads to unmasking of subthreshold inputs converging onto cortical neurons. Our findings also indicate that acute piracetam treatment exerts a protective function on the physiological response properties of cortical neurons after focal injury.