As an immediate consequence of stroke onset, failure of the Na(+)-K(+)-ATPase pump evokes a propagating anoxic depolarization (AD) across gray matter. Acute neuronal swelling and dendritic beading arise within seconds in the future ischemic core, imaged as changes in light transmittance (ΔLT). AD is itself not a target for drug-based reduction of stroke injury because it is generated in the 1st min of stroke onset. Peri-infarct depolarizations (PIDs) are milder AD-like events that recur during the hours following AD and contribute to infarct expansion. Inhibiting PIDs with drugs could limit expansion. Two types of drugs, "caines" and σ(1)-receptor ligands, have been found to inhibit AD onset (and may also oppose PID initiation), yet their underlying actions have not been examined. Imaging ΔLT in the CA1 region simultaneously with whole cell current-clamp recording from CA1 pyramidal neurons reveal that the elevated LT front and onset of the AD are coincident. Either dibucaine or carbetapentane pretreatment significantly delays AD onset without affecting resting membrane potential or neuronal input resistance. Dibucaine decreases excitability by raising spike threshold and decreasing action potential (AP) frequency, whereas carbetapentane eliminates the fast afterhyperpolarization while accentuating the slow afterhyperpolarization to reduce AP frequency. Orthodromic and antidromic APs are eliminated by dibucaine within 15 min but not by carbetapentane. Thus both drugs reduce cortical excitability at the level of the single pyramidal neuron but through strikingly different mechanisms. In vivo, both drugs would likely inhibit recurring PIDs in the expanding penumbra and so potentially could reduce developing neuronal damage over many hours poststroke when PIDs occur.