The present study investigates expression of nitric oxide synthase (NOS), immediate early genes (IEGs, c-jun, and c-fos), and low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor (LNGFR) in adult rat spinal motoneurons in response to three conditions of axonal injury: distal axotomy, root avulsion, and root avulsion followed by a peripheral nerve (PN) graft implantation. Expression of c-jun and LNGFR were predominately observed in motoneurons of the distal axotomized segment where most motoneurons survived. In contrast, expression of NOS was exclusively found in motoneurons of the rootavulsed segment where most motoneurons died. c-fos was not expressed in motoneurons following either distal axotomy or root avulsion. In animals with PN graft implantation, a double fluorescent labeling technique was used to evaluate motoneuron regeneration. Expression of NOS was completely inhibited in all motoneurons that regenerated into the PN graft, but was not inhibited in those that did not regenerate. Moreover, regenerated motoneurons expressed LNGFR and c-jun while the nonregenerated motoneurons expressed NOS. Results of the present study have shown that motoneurons undergo changes in expression of cellular molecules in response to the axonal injury. The expression of c-jun and LNGFR may be related to the regenerative process while expression of NOS is more likely involved in the degenerative process. The results also show that PN graft implantation can alter the expression of cellular molecules and reduce motoneuron death due to root avulsion. The survival-promoting effects of PN graft implantation (presumably the effects of neurotrophic factors) may be achieved by modifying certain cellular molecules such as NOS.