Transient cerebral ischemia induces, besides delayed neurodegeneration in selected brain structures, a number of early responses which may mediate ischemic injury/repair processes. Here we report that 5 min exposure to cerebral ischemia in gerbils induces a rapid inhibition and subsequent translocation of Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII). These changes were partially reversible during a 24 h post-ischemic recovery. Concomitantly the total amount of the enzyme protein, as revealed by Western blotting (alpha-subunit specific), remained stable. This is consistent with our previous hypothesis, that the mechanism of ischemic CaMKII down-regulation involves a reversible posttranslational modification-(auto)phosphorylation, rather than the degradation of enzyme protein. The effectiveness of known modulators of post-ischemic outcome in counteracting CaMKII inhibition was tested. Three of these drugs, namely dizocilpine (MK-801), N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME) and ginkgolide (BN52021), all significantly attenuated the enzyme response to ischemia, whereas an obvious diversity in the time-course of their actions implicates different mechanisms involved.