Intravenous delivery of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) prepared from adult bone marrow reduces infarction size and ameliorates functional deficits in rat cerebral ischaemia models. Placental growth factor (PlGF) is angiogenic to impaired non-neural tissue. To test the hypothesis that PlGF contributes to the therapeutic benefits of MSC delivery in cerebral ischaemia, we compared the efficacy of systemic delivery of human MSCs (hMSCs) and hMSCs transfected with a fibre-mutant F/RGD adenovirus vector with a PlGF gene (PlGF-hMSCs). A permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) was induced by intraluminal vascular occlusion with a microfilament. hMSCs and PlGF-hMSCs were intravenously injected into the rats 3 h after MCAO. Lesion size was assessed at 3 and 6 h, and 1, 3, 4 and 7 days using MR imaging and histology. Functional outcome was assessed using the limb placement test and the treadmill stress test. Both hMSCs and PlGF-hMSCs reduced lesion volume, induced angiogenesis and elicited functional improvement compared with the control sham group, but the effect was greater in the PlGF-hMSC group. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay of the infarcted hemisphere revealed an increase in PlGF in both hMSC groups, but a greater increase in the PlGF-hMSC group. These data support the hypothesis that PlGF contributes to neuroprotection and angiogenesis in cerebral ischaemia, and cellular delivery of PlGF to the brain can be achieved by intravenous delivery of hMSCs.