Stroke (brain attack) is currently the third leading cause of death in Western societies. Recent advances in molecular genetics have finally demonstrated what has long been suggested by the clinical observation, that is, stroke is not only the complication of major pathologic conditions such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, or cardiac diseases, but rather it represents a complex trait itself. Thus, the pathogenesis of stroke is often the result of the combined effects of genes exerting a direct contributory role and of their interactions with several environmental determinants. A genetic dissection of stroke has been attempted in suitable animal models and in humans. With this approach, the genetic defects underlying monogenic disorders associated with stroke were identified. Moreover, important findings have recently highlighted the contribution of genes encoding cardiovascular hormones, such as the atrial natriuretic peptide, for the pathogenesis of multifactorial, polygenic forms of stroke. A more thorough understanding of the fine mechanisms, dependent from mutations within stroke susceptibility genes and underlying the disease pathogenesis, may help to introduce new specific tools to achieve better prevention and treatment of stroke.