Nicotinamide reduces ischemic brain injury in adult rats. Can similar brain protection be seen in newborn animals? Seven-day-old rat pups had the right carotid artery permanently ligated followed by 2.5 h of 8% oxygen. Nicotinamide 250 or 500 mg/kg was administered i.p. 5 min after reoxygenation, with a second dose given at 6 h after the first. Brain damage was evaluated by weight deficit of the right hemisphere at 22 days following hypoxia. Nicotinamide 500 mg/kg reduced brain weight loss from 24.6 +/- 3.6% in vehicle pups (n = 28) to 11.9 +/- 2.6% in the treated pups (n = 29, P < 0.01), but treatment with 250 mg/kg did not affect brain weight. Nicotinamide 500 mg/kg also improved behavior in rotarod performance. Levels of 8-isoprostaglandin F2alpha measured in the cortex by enzyme immune assay 16 h after reoxygenation was 115 +/- 7 pg/g in the shams (n = 6), 175 +/- 17 pg/g in the 500 mg/kg nicotinamide treated (n = 7), and 320 +/- 79 pg/g in the vehicle treated pups (n = 7, P < 0.05 versus sham, P < 0.05 versus nicotinamide). Nicotinamide reduced the increase in caspase-3 activity caused by hypoxic ischemia (P < 0.01). Nicotinamide reduces brain injury in the neonatal rat, possibly by reducing oxidative stress and caspase-3 activity.