Abstract: To explore the possibility that peroxtdative degradation of brain tissue lipid constituents is an important mechanism of irreversible ischemic damage, we measured cortical fatty acids and phospholipids during reversible brain ischemia in the rat. Neither complete nor severe incomplete ischemia (5 and 30 min) caused any measurable breakdown of total or individual fatty acids or phospholipids. Except for a small (and reversible) decrease of inositol plus serine phosphoglycerides in the early postischemic period following 30 min of incomplete ischemia, there were no significant losses of fatty acids or phospholipids during recirculation. Since peroxidation, induced in brain cortical tissue in vitro, characteristically involves degradation of polyenoic fatty acids (arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids) and of ethanolamine phosphoglycerides, the present in vivo results fail to support the hypothesis that peroxidation of membrane lipids is of primary importance for ischemic brain cell damage. Both complete and severe incomplete ischemia caused a similar increase in the tissue content of free fatty acids (FFA). Thus the FFA pool increased by about 10 times during a 30-min ischemic period, to constitute 1 - 2% of the total fatty acid pool. Since there was a relatively larger increase in polyenoic FFA (especially in arachidonic acid) than in saturated FFA, the release of FFA may be the result of activation of a phospholipase A2 unbalanced by reesterification. Increased levels of FFA persisted during the initial recirculation period, but a gradual normalization occurred and the ischemic changes were essentially reversed at 30 min after restoration of circulation. The pathophysiological implications of the changes in FFA are discussed with respect to mitochondrial dysfunction, formation of cellular edema and prostaglandin-mediated deterioration of postischemic circulation.