The effect of N-omega-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME) on ischemic neuronal damage was studied in a rat model of permanent focal cerebral ischemia in terms of ipsilateral and contralateral cortical and cerebellar tissue lipid peroxides. Forty-five male Swiss Albino rats were assigned to one of four groups; sham operated as control, subjected to right middle cerebral artery occlusion or injection of L-NAME (10 mg/kg i.p.) either 30 min before or just after right middle cerebral artery occlusion. Changes in lipid peroxides were expressed as nanomoles of malondialdehyde and conjugated diene per milligram of protein. Malondialdehyde values following 60 min of ischemia relative to contralateral cortex and conjugated diene levels in 0, 10 and 60 min of ischemia were found to be higher in ipsilateral cortex than in contralateral cortex. On the other hand, contralateral cerebellar malondialdehyde levels after 0 and 60 min of ischemia and conjugated diene levels after 0, 10 and 60 min of ischemia were higher than those in ipsilateral cerebellum. Pharmacological inhibition of nitric oxide synthase by L-NAME before or just after permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion significantly decreased the malondialdehyde and conjugated diene levels in both the cortex and the cerebellum. No significant differences were found in malondialdehyde values between rats that had been pre-and post-treated with L-NAME, but conjugated diene levels in the post-treated group seemed to be significantly lower than those in the pretreated group. On the whole, these results suggest that malondialdehyde and conjugated diene represent early biochemical markers of lipid peroxidation in ischemic tissues, reflecting the radical-mediated tissue damage. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science B.V.