Adult neural stem and progenitor cells (NSPCs) are important autologous transplantation tools in regenerative medicine, as they can secrete factors that protect the ischemic brain. We investigated whether adult NSPCs genetically modified to secrete more glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) could protect against transient ischemia in rats. NSPCs were harvested from the subventricular zone of adult Wistar rats and cultured for 3 weeks in the presence of epidermal growth factor. The NSPCs were treated with fibre-mutant Arg-Gly-Asp adenovirus containing the GDNF gene (NSPC-GDNF) or enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) gene (NSPC-EGFP; control group). In one experiment, cultured cells were transplanted into the right ischemic boundary zone of Wistar rat brains. One week later, animals underwent 90 min of intraluminal right middle cerebral artery occlusion followed by magnetic resonance imaging and behavioural tests. The NSPC-GDNF group had higher behavioural scores and lesser infarct volume than did controls at 1, 7 and 28 days postocclusion. In the second experiment, we transplanted NSPCs 3 h after ischemic insult. Compared to controls, rats receiving NSPC-GDNF had decreased infarct volume and better behavioural assessments at 7 days post-transplant. Animals were killed on day 7 and brains were collected for GDNF ELISA and morphological assessment. Compared to controls, more GDNF was secreted, more NSPC-GDNF cells migrated toward the ischemic core and more NSPC-GDNF cells expressed immature neuronal marker. Moreover, the NSPC-GDNF group showed more effective inhibition of microglial invasion and apoptosis. These findings suggest that NSPC-GDNF may be useful in treatment of cerebral ischemia.