Acute inflammation plays an important role in brain damage following cerebral ischemia and reperfusion (I/R) injury. The present study employed a rat model of middle cerebral artery occlusion to explore the neuroprotective effects of tanshinone IIA (TSN), which is widely used in China for treating cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases. Rats were divided into a sham-operated group and I/R transiently occluded then reperfused groups. Some of the I/R animals were treated daily for 7 or 15 days with two different doses of TSN. After 15 days, triphenyl tetrazolium chloride staining revealed less unstained area indicating fewer lesions in the TSN-treated I/R group relative to the untreated corresponding I/R group. TSN treatment dramatically reduced infarct sizes and reduced content of high mobility group box 1 protein following I/R. Nuclear translocation of NFκB was also attenuated in I/R animals subsequently receiving TSN. Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling staining revealed more apoptosis in the I/R model group and this was reduced in the I/R animals treated with TSN for 15 days. Thus, TSN mitigates the severity of damage effected by I/R.