Activated neutrophils are thought to be involved in tissue injury through the release of various inflammatory mediators. To understand the role of neutrophils in spinal cord injury, the effects of nitrogen mustard-induced leukocyte depletion and the administration of an anti-P-selectin monoclonal antibody on motor disturbances observed following spinal cord compression were examined in rats. Spinal cord injury was induced by applying a 20-g weight for 20 min at the level of the 12th thoracic vertebra, resulting in motor disturbances of the hindlimbs 24 h postcompression. Motor disturbances, evaluated using Tarlov's index, an inclined-plane test and climbing ability, were markedly attenuated in rats with nitrogen mustard-induced leukocytopenia. Administration of the anti-P-selectin monoclonal antibody, by which adhesion of activated neutrophils to endothelial cells may be inhibited, also attenuated motor disturbances. Histological examination revealed that intramedullary hemorrhages observed 24 h after compression at the 12th thoracic vertebra of the spinal cord were significantly attenuated in leukocytopenic animals and those which received the anti-P-selectin monoclonal antibody. The accumulation of neutrophils at the site of compression, as evaluated by measuring the tissue myeloperoxidase activity, significantly increased with time following the compression, peaking at 3 h postcompression. Spinal cord myeloperoxidase activity did not increase in sham-operated animals. Leukocyte depletion and administration of the anti-P-selectin monoclonal antibody both reduced the accumulation of neutrophils in the damaged spinal cord segment 3 h postcompression. These observations strongly suggest that activated neutrophils play an important role in compression-induced thoracic spinal cord injury and that a P-selectin-mediated interaction between activated neutrophils and endothelial cells may be a critical step in endothelial cell injury leading to spinal cord injury.