We assessed the temporal and spatial characteristics of PN-induced oxidative damage and its relationship to calpain-mediated cytoskeletal degradation and neurodegeneration in a severe unilateral controlled cortical impact (CCI) traumatic brain injury (TBI) model. Quantitative temporal time course studies were performed to measure two oxidative damage markers: 3-nitrotyrosine (3NT) and 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE) at 30 min, 1, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 72 h and 7 days after injury in ipsilateral cortex of young adult male CF-1 mice. Secondly, the time course of Ca(++)-activated, calpain-mediated proteolysis was also analyzed using quantitative western-blot measurement of breakdown products of the cytoskeletal protein alpha-spectrin. Finally, the time course of neurodegeneration was examined using de Olmos silver staining. Both oxidative damage markers increased in cortical tissue immediately after injury (30 min) and elevated for the first 3-6 h before returning to baseline. In the immunostaining study, the PN-selective marker, 3NT, and the lipid peroxidation marker, 4HNE, were intense and overlapping in the injured cortical tissue. alpha-Spectrin breakdown products, which were used as biomarker for calpain-mediated cytoskeletal degradation, were also increased after injury, but the time course lagged behind the peak of oxidative damage and did not reach its maximum until 24 h post-injury. In turn, cytoskeletal degradation preceded the peak of neurodegeneration which occurred at 48 h post-injury. These studies have led us to the hypothesis that PN-mediated oxidative damage is an early event that contributes to a compromise of Ca(++) homeostatic mechanisms which causes a massive Ca(++) overload and calpain activation which is a final common pathway that results in post-traumatic neurodegeneration.