BACKGROUND: Although biologically plausible, epidemiological evidence linking exposure to methylmercury with increased risk of ischemic stroke is limited. The effects of methylmercury may be modified by selenium, which is an anti-oxidant that often co-exists with mercury in fish. OBJECTIVES: To examine the association between serum mercury levels with the incidence of ischemic stroke and to explore the possible effect modifications by serum selenium levels and demographic and geographic factors. METHODS: A case-cohort study was designed nested in the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke cohort, including 662 adjudicated incident cases of ischemic stroke and 2494 participants in a randomly selected sub-cohort. Serum mercury was measured using samples collected at recruitment. Multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and the corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated using the Barlow-weighting method for the Cox proportional hazards regression model. RESULTS: No statistically significant association was observed between serum mercury concentration and the incidence of ischemic stroke (the highest vs. lowest quintile of mercury levels: HR = 0.82; 95% CI = 0.55-1.22; P for linear trend = 0.42). Sex (P for interaction = 0.06), but not serum selenium levels, modified the association; a more evident trend toward lower incidence of ischemic stroke with higher mercury levels was observed among women. CONCLUSION: This study does not support an association between mercury and the incidence of ischemic stroke within a population with low-to-moderate level of exposure. Further studies are needed to explore the possibility of mercury-induced ischemic stroke toxicity in other populations at higher exposure levels.