Preconditioning rat hippocampal–entorhinocortical (HEC) slice or cerebellar cell cultures with moderate concentrations of ethanol (20–30 mm) neuroprotects against pro-inflammatory proteins such as HIV-1 glycoprotein 120 (gp120) or amyloid-β. The neuroprotective mechanism of ethanol is unclear, but it conceivably involves sensors→transducers→effectors, analogous to other preconditioning modalities. We initially found that the preconditioning augmented two likely heat shock protein (HSP) ‘effectors’, HSP70 and HSP27, and that precluding HSP upregulation abolished neuroprotection. Here we examined whether pro-survival kinases are transducers potentially leading to HSP effectors. In cerebellar cultures, protein kinase C (PKC) activity increased modestly after 2 days of 30 mm ethanol and was significantly induced after 6 days, when neuroprotection against gp120 becomes manifest. After 4 and particularly after 6 days of preconditioning, immunoblots showed highly elevated PKCε levels and moderately increased PKCα and PKCδ, accompanied by increased membrane translocation (activation) of these isoforms. Also, at the latter preconditioning duration, focal adhesion kinase (FAK), an important actin-associated kinase, and its Y397-phosphorylated form (p-FAK) were elevated, along with parallel increases in HSP27, S85p-HSP27 and HSP70. Furthermore, while confirming increased HSP27 and HSP70 in HEC slices ethanol-preconditioned for 6 days, we detected elevations in PKC isoforms, FAK, p-FAK and p-HSP27 in these organotypic cultures. Importantly, PKC inhibition with GF109203X suppressed FAK, HSP70 and HSP27 amplification/activation in ethanol-preconditioned cerebellar cultures, indicating that PKC is an upstream transducer of FAK and the HSP effectors. Neuroprotection associated with increases in HSP27/HSP70 from ethanol preconditioning entails upregulation/activation of PKC isoforms and FAK, the latter kinase implicating actin cytoskeletal prosurvival pathways in brain preconditioning.