Several observations suggest that delayed neuronal death in ischaemia, epilepsy and other brain disorders includes an apoptotic component, involving programmed cell death (PCD). PCD is hypothesized to result, in part, from aberrant control of the cell cycle. Because they are instrumental in mitosis, cyclins D are key markers to evaluate whether neurons indeed progress into the cell cycle in situations of pathology. Therefore, we investigated in rat brains, the expression of cyclins D in the delayed neuronal death that occurs following transient global ischaemia and kainate-induced seizures. Following a four-vessel occlusion insult, quantitative in situ hybridization revealed a highly significant and persistent 100% increase of cyclin D1 mRNA in the vulnerable pyramidal neurons of the CA1 hippocampal region. Ischaemia also induced a smaller and transient cyclin D1 mRNA increase in the resistant CA3 area and dentate gyrus. In contrast, the cyclin D2 and D3 mRNAs, expressed constitutively in the adult rat hippocampus, were not upregulated. Following kainate-induced seizures, cyclin D1 mRNA was induced in the vulnerable CA3 region, and to a lesser extent, in non-vulnerable regions. Cyclin D1 immunohistochemistry revealed increased protein levels in the cytoplasm and nucleus of neurons commited to die after ischaemia. Double labelling experiments indicate that cyclin D1 is also expressed in reactive astrocytes but not in microglial cells. Finally, we report that in neurons, cyclin D1 expression peaks before nuclear condensation and the appearance of DNA fragmentation. We propose that cyclin D1, when expressed at high levels in lesioned neurons, may act as a modulator of apoptosis.