A brief period of cerebral ischemia confers transient tolerance to a subsequent ischemic challenge in the brain. This phenomenon of ischemic tolerance has been confirmed in various animal models of forebrain ischemia and focal cerebral ischemia. Since the ischemic tolerance afforded by preceding ischemia can bring about robust protection of the brain, the mechanism of tolerance induction has been extensively studied. It has been elucidated that ischemic tolerance protects neurons, and at the same time, it preserves brain function. Further experiments have shown that metabolic and physical stresses can also induce cross-tolerance to cerebral ischemia, but the protection by cross-tolerance is relatively modest. The underlying mechanism of ischemic tolerance still is not fully understood. Potential mechanisms may be divided into two categories: (1) A cellular defense function against ischemia may be enhanced by the mechanisms inherent to neurons. They may arise by posttranslational modification of proteins or by expression of new proteins via a signal transduction system to the nucleus. These cascades of events may strengthen the influence of survival factors or may inhibit apoptosis. (2) A cellular stress response and synthesis of stress proteins may lead to an increased capacity for health maintenance inside the cell. These proteins work as cellular "chaperones" by unfolding misfolded cellular proteins and helping the cell to dispose of unneeded denatured proteins. Recent experimental data have demonstrated the importance of the processing of unfolded proteins for cell survival and cell death. The brain may be protected from ischemia by using multiple mechanisms that are available for cellular survival. If tolerance induction can be manipulated and accelerated by a drug treatment that is safe and effective enough, it could greatly improve the treatment of stroke.