Spinal ischemia is a frequent cause of paralysis. Here we explore the biological basis of ischemic preconditioning (IPC), the phenomenon in which a brief period of ischemia can confer protection against subsequent longer and normally injurious ischemia, to identify mediators of endogenous neuroprotection. Using microarrays, we examined gene expression changes induced by brief spinal ischemia using a rat balloon occlusion model. Among the nearly 5000 genes assayed, relatively few showed two-fold changes, and three groups stood out prominently. The first group codes for heat shock protein 70, which is induced selectively and robustly at 30 min after brief ischemia, with increases up to 100-fold. A second group encodes metallothioneins 1 and 2. These mRNAs are increased at 6 and 12 h after ischemia, up to 12-fold. The third group codes for a group of immediate-early genes not previously associated with spinal ischemia: B-cell translocation gene 2 (BTG2), the transcription factors early growth response 1 (egr-1) and nerve growth factor inducible B (NGFI-B), and a mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase, ptpn16, an important cell signaling regulator. These mRNAs peak at 30 min and return to baseline or are decreased 6 h after ischemia. Several other potentially protective genes cluster with these induced mRNAs, including small heat shock proteins, and many have not been previously associated with IPC. These results provide both putative mediators of IPC and molecular targets for testing preconditioning therapies.