The changes in the permeability of the blood-brain barrier during pentylenetetrazol (PTZ)-induced seizures were investigated in normothermic and hypothermic rats. Six groups of rats were studied: (I) normothermic control; (II) hypothermic control; (III) normothermia plus PTZ (80 mg/kg); (IV) normothermia plus PTZ (160 mg/kg); (V) hypothermia plus PTZ (80 mg/kg); (VI) hypothermia plus PTZ (160 mg/kg). The rats were anesthetized with diethyl ether. In the hypothermic animals, colonic temperature was reduced to 20 +/- 1 degrees C by submerging the animals in ice water. In normothermic animals, distinct Evans-blue leakage was observed in the occipital cortex, thalamus, hypothalamus, substantia nigra, corpus striatum, and medulla oblongata in both PTZ groups. However, hypothermic animals which received a high dose of PTZ showed the most severe blood-brain barrier breakdown. Mean levels of Evans blue in the brains of low-dose (80 mg/kg) PTZ-treated animals were 8.7 +/- 2.2 mu g/g and 5.7 +/- 1.4 mu g/g in the normothermic and hypothermic groups, respectively. This difference was significant (P < 0.01). The levels in the high dose (160 mg/kg) PTZ-treated animals were 10.2 +/- 3.5 mu g/g and 15.9 +/- 3.6 mu g/g in the normothermic and hypothermic groups, respectively (P < 0.02). In conclusion, deep hypothermia prevents the blood-brain barrier disruption induced by 80 mg/kg pentylenetetrazol and aggravates the increase in permeability after 160 mg/kg pentylenetetrazol.