An important feature of ischemic brain damage is the selective vulnerability of specific neuronal populations. We studied the distribution and time course of neuronal damage following transient cerebral ischemia in the gerbil, using light microscopy and 45Ca autoradiography. Following 5 min of ischemia, selective neuronal damage determined by abnormal 45Ca accumulation was recognized only in the hippocampal CA1 subfield and part of the inferior colliculus. Ischemia for 10 to 15 min caused extensive neuronal injury in the 3rd and 5th layers of neocortex, the striatum, the septum, the whole hippocampus, the thalamus, the medial geniculate body, the substantia nigra, and the inferior colliculus. Progression of the damage was rapid in the medial geniculate body and the inferior colliculus, moderate in the neocortex, striatum, septum, thalamus, and the substantia nigra, and was delayed in the hippocampal CA1 sector. However, the delayed damage of the hippocampus occurred earlier when the ischemia period was prolonged. Histological observation revealed neuronal loss in the identical sites of the 45Ca accumulation. This study revealed that the distribution and time course of selective neuronal damage by ischemia proceeded with different order of susceptibility and different speed of progression.