NMDA-mediated calcium entry and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production are well-recognized perpetrators of ischemic neuronal damage. The current studies show that these events lead to the release of the protein hydrolase, cathepsin B, from lysosomes 2 h following 5-min oxygen–glucose deprivation in the rat hippocampal slice. This release reflects a lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP) and was measured as the appearance of diffuse immunolabeled cathepsin B in the cytosol of CA1 pyramidal neurons. Necrotic neuronal damage begins after the release of cathepsins and is prevented by inhibitors of either cathepsin B or D indicating that the release of cathepsins is an important mediator of severe damage. There was an increase in superoxide levels, measured by dihydroethidium fluorescence, at the same time as LMP and reducing ROS levels with antioxidants, Trolox or N-tert-butyl-α-phenyl nitrone, blocked LMP. Both LMP and ROS production were blocked by an NMDA channel blocker (MK-801) and by inhibitors of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (U0126), calcium-dependent/independent phospholipases A2 (methyl arachidonyl fluorophosphonate) but not calcium-independent phospholipases A2 (bromoenol lactone) and cyclooxygenase-2 (NS398). A cell-permeant specific inhibitor of calpain (PD150606) prevented LMP, but not ROS production. It is concluded that LMP results in part from calcium-initiated and extracellular signal-regulated kinase-initiated arachidonic acid metabolism, which produces free radicals; it also requires the action of calpain.