Exposure of the CNS to hypoxia is associated with cell death. Our aim was to establish a temporal correlation between cellular and molecular alterations induced by an acute hypoxia evaluated at different post-hypoxia (p-h) times and at two stages of chick optic lobe development: embryonic days (ED) 12 and 18. TUNEL assays at ED12 disclosed a significant increase (300%) in pyknotic cells at 6 h p-h, while at ED18 no morphological changes were observed in hypoxic versus controls. At ED12 there was a significant increase (48%) in Bcl-2 levels at the end of the hypoxic treatment, followed by a significant increase of active caspase-9 (49%) and active caspase-3 (58%) at 30 and 60 min p-h, respectively, while at ED18 no significant changes were observed. These findings indicate that prenatal hypoxia produces an equilibrated imbalance in both pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins that culminates in a process of cell death, present at earlier stages of development.