Apoptosis is one of the most exciting and intensely investigated areas of biology and medicine today. Cysteine proteases called caspases serve as the executioners of apoptosis, a form of cell suicide. Hypoxic/ischemic cell death proceeds in part, by apoptosis, particularly within the periinfarct zone or ischemic penumbra. During ischemia, activated caspases dismantle the cell by cleaving multiple substrates including cytoskeletal proteins and enzymes essential for cell repair. Strategies that inhibit caspase activity block cell death in experimental models of mild ischemia, and preserve neurological function. The therapeutic window for caspase inhibition is substantially longer than for glutamate receptor antagonists, and treatment combinations with both classes of drugs decrease ischemic injury and expand the treatment window synergistically. Hence, the caspases are now recognized as novel therapeutic targets for central nervous system diseases in which cell death is prominent. This article will review the evidence and the potential importance of caspase inhibition to cerebral ischemia and briefly summarize an emerging body of data implicating caspases in cell death accompanying neurodegenerative disorders.