Although hyperglycemia is known to exacerbate neuronal injury in the setting of reversible brain ischemia, its effect on irreversible thrombotic infarction is less well understood. In this study, unilateral thrombotic infarction was induced photochemically in the parietal cortex of Wistar rats. Seven days later, brains were perfusion-fixed for light microscopy. Infarct areas were measured by computer-assisted planimetry on multiple coronal sections at 250-micron intervals; these data were integrated to yield infarct volumes. Fasted, normoglycemic rats were compared with hyperglycemic rats that had received 1.2-1.5 ml of 50% dextrose i.p. 15 minutes prior to the induction of infarction. Infarct volume averaged 12.5 +/- 4.0 mm3 (mean +/- SD) in rats (n = 14) with plasma glucose levels of 72-184 mg/dl; this differed statistically from the average volume of 9.3 +/- 3.3 mm3 observed in rats (n = 13) with elevated plasma glucose (range 264-607 mg/dl). Spearman rank correlation analysis confirmed a significant correlation of larger infarct volumes with lower plasma glucose levels. In contrast, rats receiving mannitol i.p. to produce an osmotic load comparable with that of the dextrose-pretreated animals showed larger infarct volumes than saline-treated controls. The small but definite beneficial effect of hyperglycemia in this end-arteriolar thrombotic infarction model is possibly attributable to improved local energy metabolism at the periphery of the lesion during the early period of lesion expansion.