Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) is involved in various cellular functions, including DNA repair, the cell cycle and cell death. While PARP activation could play a critical role in repairing ischemic brain damage, PARP inactivation caused by caspase 3-cleavage may also be important for apoptotic execution. In this study we investigated the effects of transient global ischemia and kainic acid (KA) neurotoxicity, in gerbil and rat brains, respectively, on PARP gene expression and protein cleavage. PARP mRNA increased in the dentate gyrus of gerbil brains 4 h after 10 min of global ischemia, which returned to basal levels 8 h after ischemia. KA injection (10 mg/kg) also induced a marked elevation in PARP mRNA level selectively in the dentate gyrus of rat brains 1 h following the injection, which returned to basal levels 4 h after the injection. These observations provide the first evidence of altered PARP gene expression in brains subjected to ischemic and excitotoxic insults. Using both monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies to PARP cleavage products, little evidence of significant PARP cleavage was found in gerbil brains within the first 3 days after 10 min of global ischemia. In addition, there was little evidence of significant PARP cleavage in rat brains within 2 days after kainate (KA) injection. Though these findings show that caspase induced PARP cleavage is not substantially activated by global ischemia and excitotoxicity in whole brain, the PARP mRNA induction could suggest a role for PARP in repairing DNA following brain injury.