The protective effect of a modified epidural cooling technique was assessed in a rabbit spinal cord ischemia model. The epidural space around the lumbar segments with induced ischemia was continually perfused with cold (5 degrees C) isotonic saline via two communicating spinal canal openings. This procedure allowed the spinal cord to be kept deeply hypothermic (< 15 degrees C within central gray matter) during the ischemic period. The animals were subjected to either normothermic ischemia (Group A) or hypothermic ischemia (Group B). Each group contained three subgroups of animals undergoing 20, 40, or 60 minutes of aortic ligation. Their neurological outcomes were evaluated up to 48 hours postischemia, and the intergroup differences were compared. Two days postischemia, all of the animals were sacrificed by transcardial perfusion-fixation and their lumbar segments were processed for histopathological examination. In addition, in animals with 60-minute ischemia, spinal somatosensory evoked potentials were recorded during surgical intervention and again after 48 hours. In the normothermic animals, a high incidence of paraplegia was detected: in 40% after 20 minutes of ischemia, in 75% after 40 minutes, and in 100% after 60 minutes. In contrast, all of the hypothermic animals exhibited full neurological recovery even after 60 minutes of ischemia. Both electrophysiological and histological observations clearly correlated with the neurological findings. The results suggest that deep spinal cord hypothermia produced by epidural perfusion cooling provides effective protection against protracted spinal cord ischemia in rabbits.