Mild or moderate hypothermia is generally thought to block all changes in signaling events that are detrimental to ischemic brain, including ATP depletion, glutamate release, Ca(2+) mobilization, anoxic depolarization, free radical generation, inflammation, blood-brain barrier permeability, necrotic, and apoptotic pathways. However, the effects and mechanisms of hypothermia are, in fact, variable. We emphasize that, even in the laboratory, hypothermic protection is limited. In certain models of permanent focal ischemia, hypothermia may not protect at all. In cases where hypothermia reduces infarct, some studies have overemphasized its ability to maintain cerebral blood flow and ATP levels, and to prevent anoxic depolarization, glutamate release during ischemia. Instead, hypothermia may protect against ischemia by regulating cascades that occur after reperfusion, including blood-brain barrier permeability and the changes in gene and protein expressions associated with necrotic and apoptotic pathways. Hypothermia not only blocks multiple damaging cascades after stroke, but also selectively upregulates some protective genes. However, most of these mechanisms are addressed in models with intraischemic hypothermia; much less information is available in models with postischemic hypothermia. Moreover, although it has been confirmed that mild hypothermia is clinically feasible for acute focal stroke treatment, no definite beneficial effect has been reported yet. This lack of clinical protection may result from suboptimal criteria for patient entrance into clinical trials. To facilitate clinical translation, future efforts in the laboratory should focus more on the protective mechanisms of postischemic hypothermia, as well as on the effects of sex, age and rewarming during reperfusion on hypothermic protection.