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Understanding the mechanisms governing the switch between hypoxia-induced adaptive and pathological transcription may reveal novel therapeutic targets for stroke. Using anin vitrohypoxia model that temporally separates these divergent responses, we found apoptotic signaling was preceded by a decline in c/EBP-β activity and was associated with markers of ER-stress including transient eIF2α phosphorylation, and the delayed induction of the bZIP proteins ATF4 and CHOP-10. Pretreatment with the eIF2α phosphatase inhibitor salubrinal blocked the activation of caspase-3, indicating that ER-related stress responses are integral to this transition. Delivery of either full-length, or a transcriptionally inactive form of c/EBP-β protected cultures from hypoxic challenge, in part by inducing levels of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2. These data indicate that the pathologic response in cortical neurons induced by hypoxia involves both the loss of c/EBP-β-mediated survival signals and activation of pro-death pathways originating from the endoplasmic reticulum.