Housing rats in an enriched environment improves functional outcome after ischemic stroke, this may reflect neuronal plasticity in brain regions outside the lesion. Which components of the enriched environment that are of greatest importance for recovery after brain ischemia is uncertain. We have previously found that enriched environment and social interaction alone both improve functional recovery after focal cerebral ischemia, compared with isolated housing with voluntary wheel-running. In this study, the aim was to separate components of the enriched environment and investigate the effects on some potential mediators of improved functional recovery; such as the inducible transcription factors nerve growth factor-induced gene A (NGFI-A) and NGFI-B, and the glucocorticoid and serotonin systems. After permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion, rats were divided into four groups: individually housed with no equipment (deprived group), individually housed with free access to a running wheel (running group), housed together in a large cage with no equipment (social group) or in a large cage furnished with exchangeable bars, chains and other objects (enriched group). mRNA expression of inducible transcription factors, serotonin and glucocorticoid receptors was determined with in situ hybridisation 1 month after cerebral ischemia. Rats housed in enriched or social environments showed significantly higher mRNA expression of NGFI-A and NGFI-B in cortical regions outside the lesion and in the CA1 (cornu ammonis region of the hippocampus), compared with isolated rats with or without a running wheel. NGFI-A and NGFI-B mRNA expression in cortex and in CA1 was significantly correlated to functional outcome. 5-Hydroxytryptamine receptor 1A (5-HT(1A)) mRNA expression and binding, as well as 5-HT(2A) receptor mRNA expression were decreased in the hippocampus (CA4 region) of the running wheel rats. Mineralocorticoid receptor gene expression was increased in the dentate gyrus amongst wheel-running rats. No group differences were found in plasma corticosterone levels or mRNA levels of glucocorticoid receptor, corticotropin-releasing hormone, 5-HT(2C) or c-fos. In conclusion, we have found that social interaction is a major component of the enriched environment regarding the effects on NGFI-A and NGFI-B expression. These transcription factors may be important mediators of improved functional recovery after brain infarctions, induced by environmental enrichment.