Recent experimental work has shown that hypothermia with even small decreases in temperature is broadly neuroprotective, but the mechanism of this protection remains unclear. Although reduction of metabolism could explain protection by deep hypothermia, it does not explain the robust protection found with mild hypothermia. Several reports have suggested that ischemic apoptosis is reduced by hypothermia. The authors examined the effects of hypothermia on neuronal apoptosis using serum deprivation, a well-accepted model that induces neuronal apoptosis. Mild hypothermia (33 degrees C) significantly reduced the number of morphologically apoptotic neurons to less than half the number seen in normothermic culture temperatures (37 degrees C) after 48 hours. They examined the effect of hypothermia on several steps in the cascade. Caspase-3, -8, and -9 activity was significantly increased after 24 hours at 37 degrees C, and was significantly lower in cultures deprived of serum at 33 degrees C. Cytochrome c translocation was reduced by hypothermia. Western blot analysis failed to detect significant changes in Bax, bcl -2, or hsp -70 at early time points, whereas hypothermia significantly reduced cJun N-terminal kinase activation. The authors conclude that small decreases in temperature inhibit apoptosis very early, possibly at the level of the initiation of apoptosis, as suggested by reduced cJun N-terminal kinase activation and before the translocation of cytochrome c, with subsequent prevention of caspase activation.