Magnesium sulfate (MgSO4) ameliorates focal ischemia-induced neuronal death in the rat and gerbil models. However, the molecular mechanisms for this neuroprotection are not known. Focal cerebral ischemia was produced by unilateral occlusion of the right common carotid artery and the right middle cerebral artery (CCAO+MCAO) for 30 min or 60 min. Treatment with MgSO4 significantly increased the level of mitogen-activated protein kinase/extra-cellular signal-regulated kinase kinase 1/2 (MEK1/2), extra-cellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), cyclic-AMP response element binding protein (CREB) phosphorylation and the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 both in the non-ischemic (contralateral) and ischemic (ipsilateral) cortex. However, these effects were reversed by administration of U0126, a MEK kinase inhibitor. In the ipsilateral cortex, a significant increase in the level of the proapoptotic proteins Bax, Bad, BNIP3 and activated caspase 3 were detected at the end of focal ischemia compared to the non-ischemic cortex. Treatment of MgSO4 prevented these ischemia-induced activations of the death cascade. Collectively, these data indicate that the ERK-CREB-Bcl-2 signaling pathway might be involved in MgSO(subscript 4-) induced neuroprotection following focal ischemia. Moreover, MgSO4 treatment also resulted in a reduction in pro-apoptotic proteins. These results enhance our understanding on the role of MgSO4 in treating cerebral ischemia.