An emerging body of evidence indicates that beta-hydroxy-beta-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors, or 'statins', provide neuroprotection in addition to reducing ischaemic stroke. Statins reduce the incidence of ischaemic stroke by stabilising atherosclerotic plaques in the precerebral vasculature and through antithrombotic actions, and the neuroprotective effects of statins may confer significant clinical benefit. Some of these neuroprotective effects are likely to be cholesterol independent and mediated by the interruption of isoprenoid biosynthesis. Therapy with statins may modulate endothelial function and preserve blood flow to regions exposed to an ischaemic insult. In particular, statin-mediated preservation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase activity in cerebral vasculature, especially in the ischaemic penumbra, may limit neurological deficit. Moreover, putative anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of statins may confer additional neuroprotection. Further large clinical trials are necessary to address the role of statin therapy in the primary prevention of stroke, small vessel cerebrovascular disease and vascular dementia.