Changes in gene expression contribute to pathophysiological alterations following spinal cord injury (SCI). We examined gene expression over time (4 h, 24 h, 7 days) at the impact site, as well as rostral and caudal regions, following mild, moderate, or severe contusion SCI in rats. High-density oligonucleotide microarrays were used that included approximately 27,000 genes/ESTs (Affymetrix RG-U34; A, B and C arrays), together with multiple analyses (MAS 5.0, dChip). Alterations after mild injury were relatively rapid (4 and 24 h), whereas they were delayed and prolonged after severe injury (24 h and 7 days). The number and magnitude of gene expression changes were greatest at the injury site after moderate injury and increased in rostral and caudal regions as a function of injury severity. Sham surgery resulted in expression changes that were similar to mild injury, suggesting the importance of using time-linked surgical controls as well as naive animals for these kinds of studies. Expression of many genes and ESTs was altered; these were classified functionally based on ontology. Overall representation of these functional classes varied with distance from the site of injury and injury severity, as did the individual genes that contributed to each functional class. Different clustering approaches were used to identify changes in neuronal-specific genes and several transcription factors that have not previously been associated with SCI. This study represents the most comprehensive evaluation of gene expression changes after SCI to date. The results underscore the power of microarray approaches to reveal global genomic responses as well as changes in particular gene clusters and/or families that may be important in the secondary injury cascade.