Oxygen free radicals or oxidants have been proposed to be involved in acute central nervous system injury that is produced by cerebral ischemia and reperfusion. Because of the transient nature of oxygen radicals and the technical difficulties inherent in accurately measuring their levels in the brain, experimental strategies have been focused on the use of pharmacological agents and antioxidants to seek a correlation between the exogenously supplied specific radical scavengers (ie, superoxide dismutase and catalase) and the subsequent protection of cerebral tissues from ischemic injury. However, this strategy entails problems (hemodynamic, pharmacokinetic, toxicity, blood-brain barrier permeability, etc) that may cloud the data interpretation. This mini-review will focus on the oxidant mechanisms in cerebral ischemic brain injury by using transgenic and knockout mice as an alternative approach. Transgenic and knockout mutants that either overexpress or are deficient in antioxidant enzyme/protein levels have been successfully produced. The availability of these genetically modified animals has made it possible to investigate the role of certain oxidants in ischemic brain cell damage in molecular fashion. It has been shown that an increased level of CuZn-superoxide dismutase and antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2 in the brains of transgenic mice protects neurons from ischemic/reperfusion injury, whereas a deficiency in CuZn-superoxide dismutase or mitochondrial Mn-superoxide dismutase exacerbates ischemic brain damage. Target disruption of neuronal nitric oxide synthase in mice also provides neuronal protection against permanent and transient focal cerebral ischemia. I conclude that molecular genetic approaches in modifying antioxidant levels in the brain offer a unique tool for understanding the role of oxidants in ischemic brain damage.