Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) remains one of the most important neurologic complications in the newborn. Several experimental and clinical studies have shown that hypothermia is the most effective means known for protecting the brain against hypoxic-ischemic brain damage. Furthermore, recent data have suggested that platelet-activating factor (PAF) could play a Pathophysiologically important role in the progression of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. The aim of the present study was to investigate the role of head cooling combined with minimal hypothermia in short-term outcome of infants with perinatal asphyxia. In addition, we have examined the effect of head cooling combined with minimal hypothermia on PAF concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) after hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. The group of asphyxiated infants (Group 1) consisted of 21 full-term (gestational age > 37 weeks). These infants were randomized and divided into either a standard therapy group (Group 1a; n = 10) or cooling group (Group 1b; n = 11). Head cooling combined with minimal hypothermia (rectal temperature 36.5-36degreesC) was started as soon as practicable after birth. The infants were cooled for 72 h and then were rewarmed at 0.5degreesC/h. The control group (Group 2) consisted of seven full-term infants and none of these infants showed any sign of asphyxia. To measure PAF concentration in CSF, CSF with lumbar puncture was collected into tubes immediately before the cooling (1-3 h after birth) and again after 36 h. We had no evidence of severe adverse events related to hypothermia. In Group I a, two infants died after 72 h of life; however, all newborn infants in Group 1b survived. Convulsion required treatment in three infants of standard therapy group (la); none of the infants in Group 1b had clinical seizure activity. Abnormal EEG patterns were found in four infants of Group I a; no EEG abnormalities were noted in Group 1b (P<0.05). On admission (before cooling), PAF concentration in CSF of asphyxiated infants was found to be significantly higher when compared with that of control (P<0.001). Mean PAF concentration before initiation of the study was similar in the two asphyxiated groups (Group 1a vs. 1b) (P>0.05). Obtained PAF level in CSF after 36 h, showed a profound decline in cooling group of infants compared to Group la infants (P<0.01). In conclusion, the present study suggests that cerebral cooling with minimal hypothermia started soon after birth has no severe adverse effects during 72-h cooling period and that short-term outcome of infants are encouraging. Our results also support the hypothesis PAF an important mediator in hypoxic-ischemic brain injury and demonstrate that head cooling combined with minimal hypothermia reduces the normal increase in PAF following hypoxic-ischemic brain injury in full-term infants. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.