Background: Mannitol and furosemide are used to reduce increased intracranial pressure (ICP) and to reduce brain bulk during neurosurgery. One mechanism by which these changes might occur is via a reduction in brain water content. Although mannitol and furosemide are commonly used in combination, there has been no formal evaluation of the interactive effects of these two drugs on brain water. The effect of mannitol and furosemide alone and in combination on water content of normal rat brain was examined. Methods: The lungs of rats anesthetized with halothane were mechanically ventilated to maintain normal physiologic parameters. After baseline measurement of plasma osmolality, mannitol (1, 4, or 8 g/kg), furosemide (2, 4, or 8 mg/kg), or a combination of furosemide (8 mg/kg) and mannitol (1, 4, or 8 g/kg) was administered intravenously over approximately 15 min. One hour later, plasma osmolality was measured, the animals were killed, and brain water content was determined by wet and dry weight measurements. Results: Mannitol produced a dose-dependent increase in plasma osmolality and reduction of brain water content. There was a linear relation between plasma osmolality and brain water content. Furosemide alone did not affect plasma osmolality or brain water at any dose. The combination of furosemide with mannitol resulted in a greater increase in plasma osmolality than seen with mannitol alone and a greater decrease in brain water at 4 and 8 g/kg of mannitol. Conclusions: The doses of mannitol and furosemide utilized were much larger than clinically applicable doses and were selected to maximize the ability to detect effect on brain water. The combination of mannitol and furosemide resulted in greater reduction of brain water content than did mannitol alone. Furosemide enhanced the effect of mannitol on plasma osmolality, resulting in a greater reduction of brain water content. Potential interaction (if any) of smaller, clinically used doses of mannitol and furosemide cannot be surmised from the current study.