The rubrospinal tract (RST) was cut unilaterally at C2-3 segment in 21 rats that were killed 3, 7, 10, 14, 28, 60, and 90 days later. Additionally, 14 rats, killed 14 or 28 days after lesioning, were treated postoperatively by daily intraperitoneal injections of GM1 ganglioside. Six unoperated, untreated rats served as controls. In untreated animals, axotomized neurons of the magnocellular division of the red nucleus (RN) exhibited cytoplasmic, nuclear, and nucleolar atrophy 7-10 days postoperatively. Atrophy progressed through the 90th postoperative day. Regression analyses disclosed a bimodal pattern to cytoplasmic and nucleolar atrophy, with an initial rapid phase changing to a slower but progressive mode from 14 days postoperatively. Nuclear atrophy proceeded in a unimodal manner. GM1 treatment did not affect these atrophic processes. Neuronal loss did not occur in the axotomized RN through the 60th postoperative day. Axotomized neurons of untreated rats showed significant and progressive reductions in mean somal (cytoplasmic) and nucleolar RNA from, respectively, the 7th and 14th postoperative day. GM1 partly prevented these RNA losses. Both in treated and untreated rats, spinal cord lesions contained many axonal sprouts 2 to 4 weeks after surgery, but newly generated axons did not traverse the rostro-caudal extent of any lesion.