MicroRNA (miRNA), miR-181a, is enriched in the brain, and inhibition of miR-181a reduced astrocyte death in vitro and infarct volume after stroke in vivo. This study investigated the role of miR-181a in neuronal injury in vitro and hippocampal neuronal loss in vivo after forebrain ischemia. miR-181a levels were altered by transfection with mimic or antagomir. N2a cells subjected to serum deprivation and oxidative stress showed less cell death when miR-181a was reduced and increased death when miR-181a increased; protection was associated with increased Bcl-2 protein. In contrast, transfected primary neurons did not show altered levels of cell death when miR-181a levels changed. Naive male rats and rats stereotactically infused with miR-181a antagomir or control were subjected to forebrain ischemia and cornus ammonis (CA)1 neuronal survival and protein levels were assessed. Forebrain ischemia increased miR-181a expression and decreased Bcl-2 protein in the hippocampal CA1 region. miR-181a antagomir reduced miR-181a levels, reduced CA1 neuronal loss, increased Bcl-2 protein, and significantly prevented the decrease of glutamate transporter 1. Thus, miR-181a antagomir reduced evidence of astrocyte dysfunction and increased CA1 neuronal survival. miR-181a inhibition is thus a potential target in the setting of forebrain or global cerebral ischemia as well as focal ischemia.