The present study investigates the induction of axon and myelin remodeling as a possible mechanism by which treatment of stroke with bone marrow stromal cells improves neurological functional recovery. Adult male Wistar rats were subjected to 2 h of middle cerebral artery occlusion, followed by an injection of 2 x 10(6) rat bone marrow stromal cells or phosphate-buffered saline into the internal carotid artery 24 h later. Animals were killed at 28 days after stroke. Functional tests, histo- and immunohistochemical staining were performed. Significant functional recovery was found after bone marrow stromal cell administration in all the three tests performed (modified neurological severity score, adhesive-removal and corner tests). Bone marrow stromal cell treatment markedly increased vessel sprouting, synaptophysin expression and NG2 positive cell numbers and density in the cortical peri-infarct area. In bone marrow stromal cell-treated rats, the number of Ki-67 positive proliferating cells and oligodendrocyte precursor cells in the corpus callosum increased significantly in concert with the enhancement of the areas of the corpus callosum in both hemispheres. These results suggest that bone marrow stromal cells facilitate axonal sprouting and remyelination in the cortical ischemic boundary zone and corpus callosum, which may underlie neurological functional improvement caused by bone marrow stromal cell treatment.