Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. Approximately 80% of all strokes are ischemic and there are limited therapies approved for the treatment of acute ischemic stroke. Understanding the mechanisms of ischemic brain damage is necessary for the development of innovative treatment strategies. In this review, we discuss the hemodynamic and molecular mechanisms of ischemic brain damage and the potential therapeutic strategies, including reperfusion and primary and secondary neuroprotection, and strategies for recovery of function, such as neural plasticity and stem cell transplantation. The effective treatment of ischemic stroke is likely to result from a combination of therapeutic modalities aimed at different mechanisms of ischemic brain damage and delivered at specific times after acute cerebral ischemia.