The proto-oncogenes bcl-2 and bcl-x-long have been shown to suppress apoptotic cell death in a variety of in vitro systems and cell lines, including neurons. An alternatively spliced form of bcl-x, bcl-x-short, is a promoter of apoptotic death. Whether these genes are induced after ischemia or play any role in determining the fate of ischemic neurons is unknown. To begin to address this issue, we studied the expression of bcl-2, and bcl-x mRNA and protein after global ischemia in the rat. Ischemia was induced in isoflurane-anesthetized rats by the four-vessel occlusion method. mRNA expression was studied by Northern blot analysis at 24 h after ischemia and by in situ hybridization at 2, 4, 8, 24, and 72 h alter 15 min of global ischemia. Protein expression was studied using both immunocytochemistry at 4, 8, 16, 24, and 72 h after ischemia and Western blot analysis from tissue harvested at 16, 24, and 72 h after ischemia. Western blots showed that bcl- x-long is the predominant form of bcl-x protein expressed in both normal and ischemic brain. Both bcl-2 and bcl-x-long mRNA were expressed in CA1, CA3, and the molecular layer of the dentate after ischemia. However, bcl-2 and bcl-x protein were expressed only in CA3 and dentate. Thus, while bcl-2 and bcl-x-long mRNA were expressed in both surviving and dying neurons, their proteins were expressed in neurons destined to survive. These results support potential roles for these two apoptosis suppressor proteins in promoting survival after cerebral ischemia.