Abstract The effects of chronic cerebrovascular ischemia on memory function and cytochrome oxidase (CO) activity were investigated. Cerebrovascular insufficiency was induced by permanent bilateral carotid artery ligation (2-VO) in 19 month old rats. Sham surgery in no-vessel occlusion (no-VO) rats were used for controls. Memory function was tested 1 week prior to surgery and then weekly for 21 days using the Morris water maze. Regional brain activity of CO was measured 4 weeks after surgery by quantitative histochemistry. Histologic examination of brain slices was used to evaluate any neuropathology present. Results showed that 2-VO rats were significantly impaired in the water maze task at each testing period with respect to no-VO controls. In addition, CO activity in 2-VO rats was markedly reduced only in the dorsal CA1 region of the hippocampus and in the posterior parietal cortex. These brain regions are involved in visuo-spatial memory mechanisms. Analysis of other brain regions in 2-VO rats did not reveal further CO activity changes. There were no damaged or loss of neurons in 2-VO or no-VO groups in any region examined, including CA1 and posterior parietal cortex. The CA1 region however, is known to undergo neuronal loss 25 weeks after chronic 2-VO suggesting that this vascular insult can induce a slowly-evolving cascade consisting of neuronal damage, atrophy and death. The present findings indicate that reduced CO activity in CA1 and posterior parietal regions can predict neural damage and atrophy prior to structural perikaryal pathology following chronic brain ischemia. In addition, the data shows that neuronal energy metabolic deficiency may initiate visuo-spatial memory impairment in this aging rat model.