We used a new injury device that produces consistent spinal cord contusion injuries (T8) in rats to compare the behavioral and histologic effects of methylprednisolone sodium succinate (MPSS) administration, the clinical standard of therapy after acute spinal cord injury (ASCI), with the 21-aminosteroid, U-74006F (U74), and the TRH analogue, YM-14673 (YM), at different trauma doses. Three sequential experiments were conducted: Experiment 1. U74 (3.0/1.5/1.5 mg/kg; 10/5/5 mg/kg; 30/15/15 mg/kg), MPSS (30/15/15 mg/kg), or vehicle were administered intravenously (i.v.) at 5 min, 2 and 6 h after the injury (n = 8/group). U74 (10/5/5 mg/kg) and MPSS animals scored better than controls (Days 8-43) in open field walking (OFW); no other differences were seen between groups. Experiment 2. Dose-response evaluation of MPSS determined more effective doses. Groups (n = 16) receiving 30/30/30/30 mg/kg and 60/60/60/60 mg/kg i.v. at 5 min and 2, 4, and 6 h after the injury had better OFW scores than controls (Days 8-29; Day 29). Both groups performed better than controls (Days 8-29) on inclined plane (IP); 30 mg/kg animals scored higher on Day 29. Percentage tissue spared (%TS) at the lesion center was greater for 60 mg/kg animals (23.4%) than controls (17.3%). Experiment 3. Compounds were administered as in experiment 2 (n = 15/group); MPSS (60/30/30/30 mg/kg) and YM (1/1/1/1 mg/kg and 1 mg/kg/day ip) were most effective. YM and MPSS combination produced no additive effects. YM animals scored better than MPSS and control animals in OFW (Days 8-29) and better than controls on IP (Days 8-29; Day 29) and grid walking (Day 29). MPSS animals scored better than controls on IP (Days 8-29). YM and MPSS groups had greater %TS than controls. This series of experiments demonstrates the utility of this injury model and simple behavioral measures for preclinical assessment of pharmacologic agents. Under these experimental conditions, U74 demonstrated equivalent efficacy to MPSS, and YM demonstrated greater efficacy than MPSS in the treatment of ASCI.