Transient global ischaemia induces the expression of immediate early genes. Using in situ hybridization, the expression of c-fos, fosB, fra-1, fra-2, c-jun and junB was studied after 15 min of normothermic and hypothermia (33°C) transient forebrain ischaemia in the rat, induced by common carotid occlusion combined with systemic hypotension. Two phases of induction of the immediate early genes were observed. The early phase, peaking at 1–2 h of reperfusion, was dominated by marked expression in the dentate gyrus. The second phase, with maximal expression at 12–36 h of reperfusion, was observed particularly in the vulnerable CA1 and CA3 regions. Hypothermia increased the early induction of one of the genes studied, signifying a differential effect of hypothermia upon the signal transduction mechanisms activating these genes. The late induction occurred earlier after hypothermic than after normothermic ischaemia. The early expression of immediate early genes is due to the rapid activation of cytosolic response elements caused by the ischaemic insult. We suggest that the late induction is a stress signal for activation of repair processes, analogous to the cellular response seen after UV light-induced DMA damage. The relatively fast induction of the immediate early genes following hypothermic ischaemia may reflect a faster resumption of normal intracellular signalling, enhancing neuronal recovery.