Proximal axotomy in adult animals results in delayed death of motor neurons. Features characteristic of both necrosis and apoptosis have been described in motor neurons of the spinal cord following proximal avulsion of the ventral roots. We have previously demonstrated that a genomic herpes simplex virus (HSV)-based vector expressing the anti-apoptotic peptide Bcl-2 protects dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra from neurotoxin-induced apoptotic cell death and preserves the neurotransmitter phenotype of those cells. In this study we examined whether the same vector could protect adult rat lumbar motor neurons from cell death following proximal ventral root avulsion. Injection of the Bcl-2-expressing vector 1 week prior to root avulsion increased the survival of lesioned motor neurons, determined by retrograde Fluorogold labeling, by 50%. The Bcl-2-expressing vector did not preserve choline acetyltransferase neurotransmitter phenotype of the lesioned cells. These results shed light on the mechanism of cell death following axonal injury, and have implications for developing an effective treatment for the clinical problem of proximal root avulsion.