We investigated the temporo-spatial expression of astrocyte glial fibrillary acidic protein (gfap) and sulfated glycoprotein 2 (sgp-2) mRNAs in comparison to 70-kDa heat shock protein (hsp70) mRNA by in situ hybridisation in rats subjected to permanent occlusion of the middle cerebral artery (MCA). Gfap mRNA started to increase in the cingulate cortex of the lesioned hemisphere 6 h after MCA occlusion and gradually spread over the lateral part of the ipsilateral cortex and the striatum from 12 h to 3 days, peaking at 3 days after MCA occlusion. Gfap mRNA also increased in the contralateral cingulate cortex and corpus callosum at 12 and 24 h. Hsp70 mRNA increased markedly in the ipsilateral cortex adjacent to the ischemic lesion, and slightly within the lesion area from 3 to 24 h and disappeared after 3 days. By 7 days, gfap and sgp-2 mRNAs were increased markedly in the peri-infarct area, and in the ipsilateral thalamus parallel with the delayed neuronal damage, whereas the widespread increase of gfap mRNA in the ipsilateral hemisphere declined. Post-occlusion treatment with the glutamate receptor antagonists MK-801 and NBQX slightly attenuate the induction of gfap but did not qualitatively affect the topical expression pattern. Within the cingulate cortex MK-801 treatment resulted in a significant decrease of the signal intensity at all survival times, reflecting most likely an attenuation of lesion-induced spreading depression like depolarization waves by MK-801. The area of hsp70 expression was reduced by both MK-801 and NBQX, most likely reflecting the decrease of the lesion area by both treatment regimens. Our study thus revealed an early and widespread increase of gfap mRNA in the non-ischemic area including the contralateral hemisphere starting between 3 and 6 h, and a delayed circumscribed expression in the peri-infarct border zone after 1 week. Comparison with the expression of hsp70 mRNA suggests that the absence of an early gfap mRNA induction in the peri-lesion zone reflects an impairment of astrocytic function which may be of importance for infarct growth during the early evolution of the pathological process.