The aim of this study is to monitor excitatory amino acids (EAAs) in the extracellular fluids of the brain and to characterize regional neuronal damage in a new experimental model for brain injury, in which rabbits were exposed to 180-260 krad/s2 rotational head acceleration. This loading causes extensive subarachnoid hemorrhage, focal tissue bleeding, reactive astrocytosis, and axonal damage. Animals were monitored for intracranial pressure (ICP) and for amino acids in the extracellular fluids. Immunohistochemistry was used to study expression of the gene c-Jun and apoptosis with the terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase nick-end labeling (TUNEL) technique. Extracellular glutamate, glycine, and taurine increased significantly in the hippocampus within a few hours and remained high after 24 h. Neuronal nuclei in the granule layers of the hippocampus and cerebellum were positive for c-Jun after 24 h. Little immunoreactivity was detected in the cerebral cortex. c-Jun-positive neuronal perikarya and processes were found in granule and pyramidal CA4 layers of the hippocampus and among the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum. Also some microglial cells stained positively for c-Jun. TUNEL reactivity was most intense at 10 days after trauma and was extensive in neurons of the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum. The initial response of the brain after rotational head injury involves brain edema after 24 h and an excitotoxic neuronal microenvironment in the first hour, which leads to extensive delayed neuronal cell death by apoptosis necrosis in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and cerebellum.