Studies that have evaluated the beneficial effect of pre-ischemic treatment of kappa-opioid receptor agonists have used short-term reperfusion intervals. We examined the long-term impact of the pre-ischemic peripheral injection of U50,488H (trans-3,4-dichloro-N-methyl-N-[2-(1-pyrrolidinyl)cyclohexyl]-benzeneacetamide), a selective kappa-opioid receptor agonist, on neuronal damage and behavioral deficits following global ischemia in rats. Four groups of ischemic rats were pretreated with various doses of U50,488H (i.p. 0, 5, 15, 30 mg/kg) 15 min prior to vessel occlusion. Two groups of sham-operated animals that received either saline or U50,488H (30 mg/kg) acted as controls. The injection of 30 mg/kg U50,488H led to a 65% increase in CA1 neuron survival 35 days post-ischemia. CA1 neuronal protection translated into significant improvement of ischemia-induced spatial memory deficits assessed in the 8-arm radial maze. However, there was no difference in activity in the open field. We also found that the pre-ischemic intracerebroventricular injection of 5 mug of the delta1-opioid receptor agonist DPDPE ([d-Pen(2,5)]-enkephalin) produced a 59% increase in CA1 neuron survival 7 days post-ischemia. Similar to U50,488H, DPDPE had no significant impact on locomotor activity. These findings support a role for kappa- and delta-opioid receptors in attenuation of ischemia-induced hippocampal damage and cognitive impairments.