Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 (PARP-1) is a DNA-binding protein that is primarily activated by nicks in the DNA molecule. It regulates the activity of various enzymes - including itself- that are involved in the control of DNA metabolism. Upon binding to DNA breaks, activated PARP cleaves NAD+ into nicotinamide and ADP-ribose and polymerizes the latter on nuclear acceptor proteins including histones, transcription factors and PARP itself. Poly(ADP-ribosylation) contributes to DNA repair and to the maintenance of genomic stability. Evidence obtained with pharmacological PARP inhibitors of various structural classes, as well as animals lacking the PARP-1 enzyme indicate that PARP plays an important role in cerebral ischemia/reperfusion, stroke and neurotrauma. Overactivation of PARP consumes NAD+ and ATP culminating in cell dysfunction and necrosis. PARP activation can also act as a signal that initiates cell death programs, for instance through AIF (apoptosis inducing factor) translocation. PARP has also been shown to associate with and regulate the function of several transcription factors. Of special interest is the enhancement by PARP of NF-kB-mediated transcription, which plays a central role in the expression of inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules and inflammatory mediators. Via this mechanism, PARP is involved in the up-regulation of numerous pro-inflammatory genes that play a pathogenetic role in the later stage of stroke and neurotrauma. Here we review the roles of PARP in DNA damage signaling and cell death, and summarize the pathogenetic role of PARP in stroke and neurotrauma.