Melanocortin peptides have been shown to produce neuroprotection in experimental ischemic stroke. The aim of the present investigation was to identify the therapeutic treatment window of melanocortins, and to determine whether these neuropeptides chronically protect against damage consequent to brain ischemia. A 10-min period of global cerebral ischemia in gerbils, induced by occluding both common carotid arteries, caused impairment in spatial learning and memory (Morris test: four sessions from 4 to 67 days after the ischemic episode), associated with neuronal death in the hippocampus. Treatment with a nanomolar dose (340 μg/kg i.p., every 12 h for 11 days) of the melanocortin analog [Nle4, D-Phe7]α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (NDP-α-MSH), starting 3–18 h after the ischemic episode, reduced hippocampal damage with improvement in subsequent functional recovery. The protective effect was long-lasting (67 days, at least) with all schedules of NDP-α-MSH treatment; however, in the latest treated (18 h) gerbils, some spatial memory deficits were detected. Pharmacological blockade of melanocortin MC4 receptors prevented the protective effects of NDP-α-MSH. Our findings indicate that, in conditions of brain ischemia, melanocortins can provide strong and long-lasting protection with a broad therapeutic treatment window, and with involvement of melanocortin MC4 receptors, 18 h being the approximately time-limit for stroke late treatment to be effective.