Object. Ischemia-induced tissue depolarizations probably play an important role in the pathophysiology of cerebral ischemia caused by parent vessel occlusion. Their role in ischemia caused by subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) remains to be investigated. The authors determined whether ischemic depolarizations (IDs) or cortical spreading depressions (CSDs) occur after SAH, and how these relate to the extent of tissue injury measured on magnetic resonance (MR) images. In addition, they assessed whether administration of MgSO4 reduces depolarization time and lesion volume. Methods. By means of the endovascular suture model, experimental SAH was induced in 52 rats, of which 37 were appropriate for analysis, including four animals that underwent sham operations. Before induction of SAH, serum Mg++ levels were measured and 90 mg/kg intravascular MgSO4 or saline was given. Extracellular direct current potentials were continuously recorded from six Ag/AgCl electrodes, before and up to 90 minutes following SAH, after which serum Mg++ levels were again measured. Next, animals were transferred to the MR imaging magnet for diffusion-weighted (DW) MR imaging. Depolarization times per electrode were averaged to determine a mean depolarization time per animal. No depolarizations occurred in sham-operated animals. Ischemic depolarizations occurred at all electrodes in all animals after SAH. Only two animals displayed a single spreading depression-like depolarization. The mean duration of the ID time was 41 ± 25 minutes in the saline-treated controls and 31 ± 30 minutes in the Mg++-treated animals (difference 10 minutes; p = 0.31). Apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) maps of tissue H2O, obtained using DW images approximately 2.5 hours after SAH induction, demonstrated hypointensities in both hemispheres, but predominantly in the ipsilateral cortex. No ADC abnormalities were found in sham-operated animals. The mean lesion volume, as defined on the basis of a significant ADC reduction, was 0.32 ± 0.42 ml in saline-treated controls and 0.11 ± 0.06 ml in Mg++-treated animals (difference 0.21 ml; p = 0.045). Serum Mg++ levels were significantly elevated in the Mg++-treated group. Conclusions. On the basis of their data, the authors suggest that CSDs play a minor role, if any, in the acute pathophysiology of SAH. Administration of Mg++ reduces the cerebral lesion volume that is present during the acute period after SAH. The neuroprotective value of Mg++ after SAH may, in part, be explained by a reduction in the duration of the ID of brain cells.