Food restriction can extend life span in rodents and was recently reported to increase the resistance of neurons in the brain to excitotoxic and metabolic insults. In principle, administration to ad libitum fed rodents of an agent that reduces glucose availability to cells should mimick certain aspects of food restriction. We now report that administration of 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2DG), a non-metabolizable analog of glucose, to adult rats results in a highly significant reduction in seizure-induced spatial memory deficits and hippocampal neuron loss. Pretreatment of rat hippocampal cell cultures with 2DG decreases the vulnerability of neurons to excitotoxic (glutamate) and oxidative (Fe2+) insults. The protective action of 2DG is associated with decreased levels of cellular oxidative stress and enhanced calcium homeostasis. 2DG treatment increased levels of the stress-responsive proteins GRP78 and HSP70 in hippocampal neurons, without affecting levels of Bcl-2 or GRP75, suggesting that mild reductions in glucose availability can increase neuronal resistance to oxidative and metabolic insults by a mechanism involving induction of stress proteins. Our findings establish cell culture and in vivo models of "chemical food restriction" which may prove useful in elucidating mechanisms of neuroprotection and in developing preventive approaches for neurodegenerative disorders that involve oxidative stress and excitotoxicity.