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Hypothermia has been proposed as a neuroprotective strategy. However, short-term cooling after hypoxia-ischemia is effective only if started immediately during resuscitation. The aim of this study was to determine whether prolonged head cooling, delayed into the late postinsult period, improves outcome from severe ischemia. Unanesthetized near term fetal sheep were subject to 30 min of cerebral ischemia. 90 min later they were randomized to either cooling (n = 9) or sham cooling (n = 7) for 72 h. Intrauterine cooling was induced by a coil around the fetal head, leading initially to a fall in extradural temperature of 5-10 degrees C, and a fall in esophageal temperature of 1.5-3 degrees C. Cooling was associated with mild transient systemic metabolic effects, but not with hypotension or altered fetal heart rate. Cerebral cooling reduced secondary cortical cytotoxic edema (P < 0.001). After 5 d of recovery there was greater residual electroencephalogram activity (-5.2+/-1.6 vs. -15.5+/-1.5 dB, P < 0.001) and a dramatic reduction in the extent of cortical infarction and neuronal loss in all regions assessed (e.g., 40 vs. 99% in the parasagittal cortex, P < 0.001). Selective head cooling, maintained throughout the secondary phase of injury, is noninvasive and safe and shows potential for improving neonatal outcome after perinatal asphyxia.