Ischemic tolerance defines transient resistance to lethal ischemia gained by a prior sublethal noxious stimulus (i.e., preconditioning). This adaptive response is thought to be an evolutionarily conserved defense mechanism, observed in a wide variety of species. Preconditioning confers ischemic tolerance if not in all, in most organ systems, including the heart, kidney, liver, and small intestine. Since the first landmark experimental demonstration of ischemic tolerance in the gerbil brain in early 1990's, basic scientific knowledge on the mechanisms of cerebral ischemic tolerance increased substantially. Various noxious stimuli can precondition the brain, presumably through a common mechanism, genomic reprogramming. Ischemic tolerance occurs in two temporally distinct windows. Early tolerance can be achieved within minutes, but wanes also rapidly, within hours. Delayed tolerance develops in hours and lasts for days. The main mechanism involved in early tolerance is adaptation of membrane receptors, whereas gene activation with subsequent de novo protein synthesis dominates delayed tolerance. Ischemic preconditioning is associated with robust cerebroprotection in animals. In humans, transient ischemic attacks may be the clinical correlate of preconditioning leading to ischemic tolerance. Mimicking the mechanisms of this unique endogenous protection process is therefore a potential strategy for stroke prevention. Perhaps new remedies for stroke are very close, right in our cells.