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Preconditioning with ligands of toll-like receptors (TLRs) is a powerful neuroprotective approach whereby a low dose of stimulus confers significant protection against subsequent substantial brain damage by reprogramming the ischemia-activated TLRs signaling. Herein, we aim to explore whether preconditioning with recombinant high-mobility group box 1 (rHMGB1), one of the TLRs ligands, decreases cerebral ischemia–reperfusion injury (IRI). Rats were intracerebroventricularly pretreated with rHMGB1, 1 or 3 days before induction of middle cerebral artery occlusion. Results showed that preconditioning with rHMGB1 1 day, but not 3 days, prior to ischemia dramatically reduced neurological deficits, infarct size, brain swelling, cell apoptosis, and blood–brain barrier permeability. Interleukin-1R-associated kinase-M (IRAK-M), a critical negative regulator of TLRs signaling, was robustly increased in response to brain IRI and was further elevated by rHMGB1 pretreatment, indicating its role associated with the rHMGB1 preconditioning-mediated ischemic tolerance. In vitro and in vivo assays indicated that the induced IRAK-M expression was localized in microglia. In addition, TLR4 specific inhibitor TAK-242 abolished the neuroprotective effects and the induction of IRAK-M offered by rHMGB1 preconditioning. Collectively, our study demonstrates that rHMGB1 preconditioning is neuroprotective during cerebral IRI, which is associated with activated TLR4/IRAK-M signaling in microglia.