Hippocampal CA1 neurons are highly susceptible to short periods of transient global ischemia. We have previously reported in a rat model of transient forebrain global ischemia that activation and nuclear localization of NF-kB occurs in the CA1 neurons at 24 and 72 h post reperfusion. Events following NF-kB activation would ultimately determine whether damaged cells will undergo programmed cell death. We have selected bcl-x gene expression for study because there is increasing evidence that proteins encoded by the bcl-2 gene family (bcl-2, bcl-x, bax etc) play a role in the regulation of programmed cell death. We have observed that the bcl-x gene promoter contains a putative consensus sequence for NF-kB/CS4 responsive activation. We also can show that other members of the bcl-2 multigene family contain the NF-kB/CS4 sequence in their five prime regulatory regions. In this study, we show that NF-kB p50 and NF-kB p65 act in synergy to transactivate the bcl-x promoter in co-transfected 293 cells. We also report that following ischemia and NF-kB activation, bcl-x messenger RNA levels increase in the CA1 hippocampal region. As a result of this transcriptional increase, surprisingly, it is bcl-xs, the apoptotic form of bcl-x, that is elevated. These results suggest that activation of NF-kB can lead to increased expression of bcl-x as manifested by the increase in the short form of bcl-x.