Selective I(2)-imidazoline receptor ligands induce neuroprotection through various molecular mechanisms including blockade of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. To investigate new neuroprotective mechanisms associated with I(2)-imidazoline receptors, the effects of selective (2-styryl-2-imidazoline (LSL 61122), 2-(2-benzofuranyl)-2-imidazoline (2-BFI), 2-(4,5-dihydroimidazol-2-yl) quinoline hydrochloride (BU-224)) and non-selective (idazoxan) I(2)-drugs on canonical apoptotic pathways were assessed in rat brain cortex. The acute treatment with LSL 61122 (10 mg/kg) reduced the content of mitochondrial (pro-apoptotic) Bax (-33%) and cytochrome c (-31%), which was prevented by idazoxan, an I(2)-receptor antagonist. The sustained stimulation of I(2)-imidazoline receptors with selective drugs (10 mg/kg, every 12 h for seven days) was associated with down-regulation of key components of the extrinsic (Fas receptor: -20%; Fas associated protein with death domain (FADD) adaptor: -47-54%) and/or intrinsic (Bax: -20-23%; cytochrome c: -22-28%) apoptotic signalling and/or up-regulation of survival anti-apoptotic factors (p-Ser194 FADD/FADD ratio: +1.6-2.5-fold; and/or Bcl-2/Bax ratio: +1.5-fold), which in the long-term could dampen cell death in the brain. Similar chronic treatments with LSL 60101 (the imidazole analogue of 2-BFI) and idazoxan (a mixed I(2)/α(2)-ligand) did not induce significant alterations of pro- or anti-apoptotic proteins. The disclosed anti-apoptotic mechanisms of selective I(2)-imidazoline drugs may work in concert with other molecular mechanisms of neuroprotection (e.g. blockade of NMDA receptors) that are engaged by I(2)-ligands.