Application of arachidonic acid or prostaglandin G(2) to the brain surface of anesthetized cats induced cerebral arteriolar damage. Scavengers of free oxygen radicals inhibited this damage. Prostaglandin H(2), prostaglandin E(2), and 11,14,17-eicosatrienoic acid did not produce arteriolar damage. It appears that increased prostaglandin synthesis produces cerebral vascular damage by generating free oxygen radicals.