A variety of extracellular serine proteases are expressed in the central nervous system or might permeate the blood–brain barrier under pathological conditions. However, their intracerebral targets and physiological functions are largely unknown. Here, we show that four distinct subtypes of protease-activated receptors (PARs) are abundantly expressed in the adult rat brain and in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures. PAR-1 expression was significant in the hippocampus, cortex and amygdala. Highest densities of PAR-2 and PAR-3 were observed in hippocampus, cortex, amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus and striatum. Apart from the striatum, a similar localization was found for PAR-4. Within the hippocampal formation, each PAR subtype was predominantly localized in the pyramidal cell layers. Additionally, we identified PAR-2 in mossy fibers between dentate gyrus and CA3, PAR-3 in the subiculum and PAR-4 in CA3 and in mossy fibres as well as in the stratum lacunosum moleculare. After exposing hippocampal slice cultures to a severe experimental ischemia (oxygen–glucose deprivation), the expression of PARs 1–3 was up-regulated with subtype-specific kinetics. The localization of PARs in brain regions particularly vulnerable to ischemic insults as well as distinct alterations in the expression pattern after experimental ischemia support the notion of an important role of extracellular serine proteases and PARs in cerebral ischemia.