5'-AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a member of the serine/threonine (Ser/Thr) kinase group, is universally distributed in various cells and organs. It is a significant endogenous defensive molecule that responds to harmful stimuli, such as cerebral ischemia, cerebral hemorrhage, and, neurodegenerative diseases (NDD). Cerebral ischemia, which results from insufficient blood flow or the blockage of blood vessels, is a major cause of ischemic stroke. Ischemic stroke has received increased attention due to its '3H' effects, namely high mortality, high morbidity, and high disability. Numerous studies have revealed that activation of AMPK plays a protective role in the brain, whereas its action in ischemic stroke remains elusive and poorly understood. Based on existing evidence, we introduce the basic structure, upstream regulators, and biological roles of AMPK. Second, we analyze the relationship between AMPK and the neurovascular unit (NVU). Third, the actions of AMPK in different phases of ischemia and current therapeutic methods are discussed. Finally, we evaluate existing controversy and provide a detailed analysis, followed by ethical issues, potential directions, and further prospects of AMPK. The information complied here may aid in clinical and basic research of AMPK, which may be a potent drug candidate for ischemic stroke treatment in the future.