The ability of a single large intravenous dose of methylprednisolone sodium succinate (MPSS: 15, 30, or 60 mg/kg) to modify the evolution of lumbar spinal cord ischemia in cats undergoing a contusion injury of 500 gm-cm is examined. Repeated measurements of spinal cord blood flow (SCBF) in the dorsolateral funiculus were made via the hydrogen clearance technique before and for 4 to 5 hours after injury. The mean preinjury SCBF for all animals was 12.29 +/- 0.77 ml/100 gm/min. Following injury, SCBF began to decrease progressively in vehicle-treated animals to a level of 7.71 ml/100 gm/min, a fall of 37.3%. In contrast, cats that received a 30-mg/kg intravenous dose of MPSS at 30 minutes after injury maintained SCBF within normal limits (p less than 0.05 at 3 and 4 hours after contusion). A 15-mg/kg MPSS dose was less effective at preventing posttraumatic white matter ischemia, and a 60-mg/kg dose was essentially ineffective. It was determined that the 30-mg/kg MPSS dose was optimal for supporting SCBF when the drug was given at 30 minutes after spinal trauma, and a second series of experiments was carried out to examine the ability of this dose, when given at longer latencies, to improve decreased flow. Methylprednisolone given at 1 1/2 hours after injury in four cats produced a slight (12.7%) but transient improvement in SCBF, and when administered at 4 1/2 hours in another three animals was totally ineffective. These results show that MPSS in a 30-mg/kg dose can prevent posttraumatic spinal cord ischemia. However, it would appear that the ability of the steroid to reverse the ischemia once it has developed is limited, and probably lost, within a few hours of onset. This further suggests that the ischemic process is irreversible and underscores the need for early treatment with a large MPSS dose in order to prevent full development of ischemia and to promote neurological recovery.