Stat3, a member of the family of cytoplasmic signal transducers and activators of transcription, was found in the rat brain in vivo under physiological conditions and was stimulated following transient focal cerebral ischaemia. A transient episode of middle cerebral artery occlusion induced a strong microglial response in the areas undergoing neural cell death from 4 days after middle cerebral artery occlusion. This was accompanied by increased expression of Stat3 in the ipsilateral cortex and striatum, as revealed by Western blotting of tissue extracts. immunohistochemistry showed strong induction of Stat3 in reactive microglial cells 4, 7 and 15 days after cerebral ischaemia. Stat3 was seen in the microglia cytoplasm, but in many microglial cells immunoreactivity was also distributed within the nucleus. These results suggest that Stat3 mediates signal transduction and activates transcription in reactive microglia in vivo following brain ischaemia.