Peroxynitrite, which has been implicated in secondary neuronal damage resulting from spinal cord injury, is capable of mediating several toxic interactions including inducing DNA strand breaks and activating the nuclear enzyme, poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP). In the present study we have tested the hypothesis that peroxynitrite-induced cell death in spinal cord injury is due to activation of PARP. Initially we examined whether peroxynitrite exerts toxic effects on primary cultures of spinal cord neurons and then determined whether the spinal cord neuronal cell death triggered by peroxynitrite was associated with PARP activation. Peroxynitrite dose-dependently reduced the viability of spinal cord neurons in vitro. Furthermore, peroxynitrite exposure markedly increased the number of DNA strand breaks in primary spinal cord neurons, resulting in activation of PARP. To identify whether PARP activation plays a direct role in peroxynitrite-induced neurotoxicity we assessed the effects of the PARP inhibitors, nicotinamide, 3-aminobenzamide and 5-iodo-6-amino-1,2 benzopyrone on cell viability in spinal cord neurons exposed to peroxynitrite. The presence of the PARP inhibitors in the cultures not only inhibited peroxynitrite-induced PARP activity in spinal cord neurons but also protected the cells from the deleterious actions of peroxynitrite. Therefore, our results demonstrate that peroxynitrite exerts toxic effects on spinal cord neurons in vitro at least in part through a PARP-dependent pathway.