The potassium channel blocking drug 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) was administered to eight patients with chronic spinal cord injury, in a therapeutic trial based on the ability of the drug to restore conduction of impulses in demyelinated nerve fibers. The study was performed using a randomized, double-blind, crossover design, so that each patient received the drug and a vehicle placebo on different occasions, separated by 2 weeks. Drug and placebo were delivered by infusion over 2 h. An escalating total dose from 18.0 to 33.5 mg was used over the course of the study. Subjects were evaluated neurologically before and after the infusion. Two subjects returned for a second trial after 4 months and were examined daily for 3 to 4 days following drug infusion. Side effects were consistent with previous reports. Administration of the drug was associated with significant temporary neurologic improvement in five of six patients with incomplete spinal cord injury. No effect was detected in two cases of complete paraplegia and one of two severe incomplete cases (Frankel class B). Improvements in neurologic status following drug administration included increased motor control and sensory ability below the injury, and reduction in chronic pain and spasticity. The effects persisted up to 48 h after infusion of the drug, and patients largely returned to preinfusion status by 3 days. Compared with the more rapid elimination of the drug, these prolonged neurologic effects appear to involve a secondary response and are probably not a direct expression of potassium channel blockade.