HIF-1 is a heterodimeric transcription factor, induced by hypoxia, that is composed of HIF-1alpha and HIF-1beta protein subunits. It binds to promoter/enhancer elements and stimulates the transcription of hypoxia-inducible target genes, including glucose transporter-1 and the glycolytic enzymes. Because HIF-1 activation might promote cell survival in hypoxic tissues, we studied the effect of permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion on the expression of HIF-1alpha, HIF-1beta and several HIF-1 target genes in adult rat brain. After focal ischaemia, mRNAs encoding HIF-1alpha, glucose transporter-1 and several glycolytic enzymes were up-regulated in the peri-infarct penumbra. This was observed by 7.5 h after the onset of ischaemia and increased further at 19 and 24 h. Regional cerebral blood flow was moderately decreased at 1 and 24 h after the ischaemia in areas of HIF-1 and HIF-1 target gene induction. Because hypoxia induces HIF-1 in other tissues, systemic hypoxia (6% O2 for 4.5 h) was also shown to increase HIF-1alpha protein expression in the adult rat brain. It is proposed that decreased blood flow to the penumbra decreases the supply of oxygen and that this induces HIF-1 and its target genes. This is the first study to show induction of HIF-1 after focal ischaemia in brain. Increased expression of HIF-1 target genes as a result of HIF-1 activation by hypoxia may contribute to tissue viability in the hypoxic/ischaemic penumbra by increasing glucose transport and glycolysis.