Increasing evidence has demonstrated striking sex differences in the pathophysiology of and outcome after acute neurological injury. Lesser susceptibility to postischemic and posttraumatic brain injury in females has been observed in experimental models. Additional evidence suggests this sex difference extends to humans as well. The greater neuroprotection afforded to females is likely due to the effects of circulating estrogens and progestins. In fact, exogenous administration of both hormones has been shown to improve outcome after cerebral ischemia and traumatic brain injury in experimental models. The neuroprotection provided by periinjury administration of these hormones extends to males as well. The mechanisms by which estrogen and progesterone provide such neuroprotection are likely multifactorial, and probably depend on the type and severity of injury as well as the type and concentration of hormone present. Both genomic and nongenomic mechanisms may be involved. Estrogen's putative effects include preservation of autoregulatory function, an antioxidant effect, reduction of A beta production and neurotoxicity, reduced excitotoxicity, increased expression of the antiapoptotic factor bcl-2, and activation of mitogen activated protein kinase pathways. It is hypothesized that several of these neuroprotective mechanisms can be linked back to estrogen's ability to act as a potent chemical (i.e., electron-donating) antioxidant. Progesterone, on the other hand, has a membrane stabilizing effect that also serves to reduce the damage caused by lipid peroxidation. In addition, it may also provide neuroprotection by suppressing neuronal hyperexcitability. The following review will discuss experimental and clinical evidence for sex differences in outcome after acute brain trauma and stroke, review the evidence implicating estrogens and progestins as mediators of this neuroprotection following acute neurological injury, and finally, address the specific mechanisms by which these hormones may protect the brain following acute neurological injury.