To identify the transductional mechanisms responsible for the neuroprotective effect of nitric oxide (NO) during ischemic preconditioning (IPC), we investigated the effects of this gaseous mediator on mitochondrial Mn-superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD) expression and activity. In addition, the possible involvement of Ras/extracellular-regulated kinase (ERK) ERK1/2 pathway in preserving cortical neurons exposed to oxygen and glucose deprivation (OGD) followed by reoxygenation was also examined. Ischemic preconditioning was obtained by exposing neurons to a 30-min sublethal OGD (95% N(2) and 5% CO(2)). Then, after a 24-h interval, neurons were exposed to 3 h of OGD followed by 24 h of reoxygenation (OGD/Rx). Our results revealed that IPC reduced cytochrome c (cyt c) release into the cytosol, improved mitochondrial function, and decreased free radical production. Moreover, it induced an increase in nNOS expression and NO production and promoted ERK1/2 activation. These effects were paralleled by an increase in Mn-SOD expression and activity that persisted throughout the following OGD phase. When the neurons were treated with L-NAME, a well known NOS inhibitor, the increase in Mn-SOD expression occurring during IPC was reduced and, as a result, IPC-induced neuroprotection was prevented. Similarly, when ERK1/2 was inhibited by its selective inhibitor PD98059, the increase in Mn-SOD expression observed during IPC was almost completely abolished. As a result, its neuroprotective effect on cellular survival was thwarted. The present findings indicate that during IPC the increase in Mn-SOD expression and activity are paralleled by NO production. This suggests that NO neuroprotective role occurs through the stimulation of Mn-SOD expression and activity. In particular, NO via Ras activation stimulates downstream ERK1/2 cascade. This pathway, in turn, post-transcriptionally activates Mn-SOD expression and activity, thus promoting neuroprotection during preconditioning.