Binding of the transcription factor nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) to the antioxidant response element (ARE) in neural cells results in the induction of a battery of genes that can coordinate a protective response against a variety of oxidative stressors. In this study, tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) and sulforaphane were used as activators of this pathway. Consistent with previous studies, treatment of primary cortical cultures from ARE reporter mice revealed selective promoter activity in astrocytes. This activation protected neurons from hydrogen peroxide and nonexcitotoxic glutamate toxicity. tBHQ treatment of cultures from Nrf2 knock-out animals resulted in neither ARE activation nor neuroprotection. By reintroducing Nrf2 via infection with a replication-deficient adenovirus (ad), both the genetic response and neuroprotection were rescued. Conversely, infection with adenovirus encoding dominant-negative (DN) Nrf2 (ad-DN-Nrf2) or pretreatment with the selective phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase inhibitor LY294002 inhibited the tBHQ-mediated promoter response and corresponding neuroprotection. Interestingly, the adenoviral infection showed a high selectivity for astrocytes over neurons. In an attempt to reveal some of the cell type-specific changes resulting from ARE activation, cultures were infected with adenovirus encoding green fluorescent protein (GFP) (ad-GFP) or ad-DN-Nrf2 (containing GFP) before tBHQ treatment. A glia-enriched population of GFP-infected cells was then isolated from a population of uninfected neurons using cell-sorting technology. Microarray analysis was used to evaluate potential glial versus neuron-specific contributions to the neuroprotective effects of ARE activation and Nrf2 dependence. Strikingly, the change in neuronal gene expression after tBHQ treatment was dependent on Nrf2 activity in the astrocytes. This suggests that Nrf2-dependent genetic changes alter neuron-glia interactions resulting in neuroprotection.