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Depending on dose, dexamethasone has been shown to inhibit or stimulate growth of rat 9L gliosarcoma and decrease the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), an important mediator of tumor-associated angiogenesis. We demonstrate, by constructing relative cerebral blood volume (rCBV) maps with MRI, that dexamethasone also decreases total blood volume while increasing microvascular blood volume in Fischer rats bearing intracranial 9L gliosarcoma. Animals were inoculated with 1 x 10(5) 9L gliosarcoma tumor cells. On days 10-14 after tumor cell inoculation, animals were intra-peritoneally injected with dexamethasone (3 mg/kg) over 5 days. MRI-derived gradient echo (GE) and spin-echo (SE) rCBV maps were created to demonstrate total vasculature (GE) and microvasculature (SE). After MRI studies were performed, the rat's vasculature was perfused with a latex compound. Total vessel volume and diameters were assessed by microscopy. Dexamethasone decreased the tumor-enhancing area of postcontrast T1-weighted images (P < 0.0001) and total tumor volume(P = 0.0085). In addition, there was a greater than 50% decrease in GE rCBV (total vasculature) (P = 0.007) as well as a significant decrease in total fractional blood volume, as validated by histology (P = 0.0007). Conversely, there was an increase in SE rCBV signal (microvasculature) in animals treated with dexamethasone (P = 0.05), which was consistent with microscopy (P < 0.0001). These data demonstrate that (1) dexamethasone selectively treats tumor vasculature, suggesting a vessel-size selective effect and (2) MRI-derived rCBV is a noninvasive technique that can be used to evaluate changes in blood volume and vascular morphology.