The transcription factors cyclic AMP responsive element-binding protein (CREB) and activating transcription factor-2 were studied in rat brains subjected to 15 min ischemia followed by varied periods of reperfusion using western blot and immunocytochemical analyses. The total amounts of both CREB and activating transcription factor-2 were not altered in the hippocampus after ischemia. In contrast, levels of the phosphorylated forms of both transcription factors decreased during ischemia but rebounded following reperfusion. The phospho-forms of CREB and activating transcription factor-2 showed regional and temporal differences in their expression. Phospho-CREB was increased relative to control levels at 30 min, and continued to increase for at least three days postischemia, mainly in dentate granule cells. The level of phospho-activating transcription factor-2 appeared to be higher in CAI pyramidal cells than in dentate granule cells after ischemia. The present findings suggest that the signaling pathways for phosphorylation of CREB may be neuroprotective for dentate cells, which are relatively resistant to ischemic insults. The increased phospho-activating transcription factor-2 may reflect increased stresses in these neurons. The more modest activation of CREB pathways in CA1 neurons may not be enough to overcome the increased stresses in these neurons, contributing to delayed neuronal death.