Focal cerebral ischemia elicits a strong inflammatory response involving early recruitment of granulocytes and delayed infiltration of ischemic areas and the boundary zones by T cells and macrophages. Infiltration of hematogenous leukocytes is facilitated by an upregulation of the cellular adhesion molecules P-selectin, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 and vascular adhesion molecule-1 on endothelial cells. Blocking of the leukocyte/endothelial cell adhesion process significantly reduces stroke volume after transient, but not permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion. In the infarct region microglia are activated within hours and within days transform into phagocytes. Astrocytes upregulate intermediate filaments, synthesize neurotrophins and form glial scars. Local microglia and infiltrating macrophages demarcate infarcts and rapidly remove debris. Remote from the lesion no cellular infiltration occurs, but astroglia and microglia are transiently activated. Astrocytic activation is induced by spreading depression. In focal ischemia neurons die acutely by necrosis and in a delayed fashion by programmed cell death, apoptosis. Proinflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1 beta are upregulated within hours in ischemic brain lesions. Either directly or via induction of neurotoxic mediators such as nitric oxide, cytokines may contribute to infarct progression in the post-ischemic period. On the other hand, inflammation is tightly linked with rapid removal of debris and repair processes. At present it is unclear whether detrimental effects of inflammation outweigh neuroprotective mechanisms or vice versa. In global ischemia inflammatory responses are limited, but micro- and astroglia are also strongly activated. Glial responses significantly differ between brain regions with selective neuronal death and neighbouring areas that are more resistent to ischemic damage.