Blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption occurs early enough to be within the thrombolytic time window, and this early ischemic BBB damage is closely associated with hemorrhagic transformation and thus emerging as a promising target for reducing the hemorrhagic complications of thrombolytic stroke therapy. However, the mechanisms underlying early ischemic BBB damage remain poorly understood. Here, we investigated the early molecular events of ischemic BBB damage using in vitro oxygen-glucose deprivation (OGD) and in vivo rat middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) models. Exposure of bEND3 monolayer to OGD for 2 h significantly increased its permeability to FITC-labeled dextran and promoted the secretion of metalloproteinase-2 and -9 (MMP-2/9) and cytosolic translocation of caveolin-1 (Cav-1). This same OGD treatment also led to rapid degradation of tight junction protein occludin and dissociation of claudin-5 from the cytoskeleton, which contributed to OGD-induced endothelial barrier disruption. Using selective MMP-2/9 inhibitor SB-3CT (2-[[(4-phenoxyphenyl)sulfonyl]methyl]-thiirane) or their neutralizing antibodies or Cav-1 siRNA, we found that MMP-2 was the major enzyme mediating OGD-induced occludin degradation, while Cav-1 was responsible for claudin-5 redistribution. The interaction between Cav-1 and claudin-5 was further confirmed by coimmunoprecipitation. Consistent with these in vitro findings, we observed fluorescence tracer extravasation, increased gelatinolytic activity, and elevated interstitial MMP-2 levels in ischemic subcortical tissue after 2 h MCAO. Moreover, occludin protein loss and claudin-5 redistribution were detected in ischemic cerebromicrovessels. These data indicate that cerebral ischemia initiates two rapid parallel processes, MMP-2-mediated occludin degradation and Cav-1-mediated claudin-5 redistribution, to cause BBB disruption at early stroke stages relevant to acute thrombolysis.