The involvement of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in cerebral ischemia-induced apoptosis was investigated in a model of transient focal cerebral ischemia in rats treated intracerebroventricularly (i.c.v.) with 4-((3-(4-phenoxylphenoxy)propylsulfonyl)methyl)-tetrahydropyran-4-carboxylic acid N-hydroxy amide, a broad spectrum non-peptidic hydroxamic acid MMP inhibitor, and in MMP-9-deficient mice. Our results showed that MMP inhibition reduced DNA fragmentation by 51% (P < 0.001) and cerebral infarct by 60% (P < 0.05) after ischemia. This protection was concomitant with a 29% reduction of cytochrome c release into the cytosol (P < 0.005) and a 54% reduction of calpain-related α-spectrin degradation (P < 0.05), as well as with an 84% increase in the immunoreactive signal of the native form of poly(ADP) ribose polymerase (P < 0.01). By contrast, specific targeting of the mmp9 gene in mice did reduce cerebral damage by 34% (P < 0.05) but did not modify the apoptotic response after cerebral ischemia. However, i.c.v. injection of MMP-9-deficient mice with the same broad-spectrum inhibitor used in rats significantly reduced DNA degradation by 32% (P < 0.05) and contributed even further to the protection of the ischemic brain. Together, our pharmacological and genetic results indicate that MMPs other than MMP-9 are actively involved in cerebral ischemia-induced apoptosis.