Background Oxidative stress and inflammation exacerbate tissue damage in the brain after ischemic stroke. Dimethyl-fumarate (DMF) and its metabolite monomethyl-fumarate (MMF) are known to stimulate anti-oxidant pathways and modulate inflammatory responses. Considering these dual effects of fumarates, we examined the effect of MMF treatment after ischemic stroke in mice. Methods Permanent middle cerebral artery occlusion (pMCAO) was performed using adult, male C57BL/6 mice. Thirty minutes after pMCAO, 20 mg/kg MMF was administered intravenously. Outcomes were evaluated 6, 24 and 48 h after pMCAO. First, we examined whether a bolus of MMF was capable of changing expression of kelch-like erythroid cell-derived protein with CNC homology-associated protein 1 (Keap1) and nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor (Nrf)2 in the infarcted brain. Next, we studied the effect of MMF on functional recovery. To explore mechanisms potentially influencing functional changes, we examined infarct volumes, edema formation, the expression of heat shock protein (Hsp)72, hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 2 (Hcar2), and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) in the infarcted brain using real-time PCR and Western blotting. Concentrations of a panel of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines (IFNγ, IL-1β, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, IL-12p70, TNF) were examined in both the infarcted brain tissue and plasma samples 6, 24 and 48 h after pMCAO using multiplex electrochemoluminiscence analysis. Results Administration of MMF increased the protein level of Nrf2 6 h after pMCAO, and improved functional outcome at 24 and 48 h after pMCAO. MMF treatment did not influence infarct size, however reduced edema volume at both 24 and 48 h after pMCAO. MMF treatment resulted in increased Hsp72 expression in the brain 6 h after pMCAO. Hcar2 mRNA levels increased significantly 24 h after pMCAO, but were not different between saline- and MMF-treated mice. MMF treatment also increased the level of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 in the brain and plasma 6 h after pMCAO, and additionally reduced the level of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-12p70 in the brain at 24 and 48 h after pMCAO. Conclusions A single intravenous bolus of MMF improved sensory-motor function after ischemic stroke, reduced edema formation, and increased the levels of the neuroprotective protein Hsp72 in the brain. The early increase in IL-10 and reduction in IL-12p70 in the brain combined with changes in systemic cytokine levels may also contribute to the functional recovery after pMCAO.