Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are thought to contribute to the secondary injury process after traumatic brain injury (TBI). ROS scavenging compounds have shown neuroprotective properties in various models of experimental brain injury, including TBI. Administration of nitrone radical scavengers has emerged as a promising pharmacological concept in focal experimental ischemia due to their low toxicity and neuroprotective properties, with a time window of several hours. The aim of this study was to test the neuroprotective efficacy of two nitrones, the readily blood-brain barrier (BBB) penetrating alpha-phenyl-N-tert-butyl nitrone (PBN) and the poorly BBB penetrating sulfo-derivative, 2-sulfo-phenyl-N-tert-butyl nitrone (S-PBN) after moderate (2.20-2.45 atm) lateral fluid percussion injury (FPI) in rats. Twenty-six rats received a 24-h intravenous infusion (30 mg/kg/h) of saline, PBN, or an equimolar dose of S-PBN beginning 30 min after FPI. Eight sham-operated animals were used as controls. Cognitive function was assessed using the Morris Water Maze at day 11-15 after TBI, neurological status at day 1, 4, and 8 and morphological outcome at day 15. PBN and S-PBN treatment significantly reduced the loss of ipsilateral hemispheric tissue whereas only S-PBN tended to reduce the cortical lesion volume. PBN treatment caused a significant improvement in the neurological score as compared to saline-treated animals, while S-PBN alone attenuated the cognitive deficit. Our results suggest that nitrone radical scavengers are neuroprotective when administered 30 min after FPI in rats. Differences in pharmacokinetics may account for the observed individual neuroprotective profiles of the two nitrones.