After occlusion of the middle cerebral artery in rats, a robust neuronal loss occurs in the ipsilateral substantia nigra reticulata. In this study we have assessed whether degeneration of the substantia nigra is accompanied by changes in the expression of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2. Neuronal loss was assessed by neuronal nuclei (NeuN) immunoreactivity. A significant decrease of Bcl-2 expression was observed in the substantia nigra 12, 24 and 72 h after middle cerebral artery occlusion. These results suggest that the secondary neuronal loss in the substantia nigra could be related with the modification of proteins regulating programmed cell death. Exo-focal cell death may explain the appearance of neuropsychiatric symptoms that are not correlated with the primary site of lesion.