After acute injury of the central nervous system extracellular adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) can reach high concentrations as a result of cell damage and subsequent increase in membrane permeability. Released ATP may act as a toxic agent, which causes cellular degeneration and death, mediated through P2X and P2Y receptors. Mechanisms underlying the various effects of purinoceptor modulators in models of cerebral damage are still uncertain. In the present study the effect of P2 receptor inhibition after permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) in spontaneously hypertensive rats was investigated. Rats received either the non-selective P2 receptor antagonist pyridoxalphosphate-6-azophenyl-2′,4′-disulphonic acid (PPADS) or artificial cerebrospinal fluid (ACSF) as control by the intracerebroventricular route. First, these treatments were administered 10 min before MCAO and subsequently twice daily for 1 or 7 days after MCAO. The functional recovery of motor and cognitive deficits was tested at an elevated T-labyrinth. The PPADS-treated group showed a significant reduction of paresis-induced sideslips compared with ACSF-treated animals. Infarct volume was reduced in the PPADS group in comparison with the ACSF group. A significant decrease in intermediately and profoundly injured cells in favour of intact cells in the PPADS group was revealed by quantification of celestine blue/acid fuchsin-stained cells in the peri-infarct area. The data provide further evidence for the involvement of P2 receptors in the pathophysiology of cerebral ischaemia in vivo. The inhibition of P2 receptors at least partially reduces functional and morphological deficits after an acute cerebral ischaemic event.