Glutamate-induced excitotoxicity involving the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) has been implicated in neuronal dysfunction and cell loss following ischemic and traumatic injury to the central nervous system (CNS). ROS are formed in mitochondria when energy metabolism is compromised, and are inactivated by the ROS scavengers superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione (GSH). ROS can impair the function of several cellular components including proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids. In the present study, we measured indicators of mitochondrial metabolic activity, ROS formation, lipid peroxidation, and antioxidant enzyme activities in synaptosomes obtained from rat spinal cord at early times following traumatic injury. Mitochondrial metabolic activity was found to significantly decrease as early as 1 h following injury, and continued to be compromised over the remaining postinjury time points. ROS formation was found to be significantly increased at 4 and 24 h following injury, while lipid peroxidation levels were found to be significantly increased in the injured spinal cord at 1 and 24 h, but not 4 h following injury. SOD enzyme activity was unchanged at all postinjury time points, while catalase activity and GSH levels were significantly increased at 24 h following injury. These findings indicate that impaired mitochondrial function, ROS, and lipid peroxidation occur soon after traumatic spinal cord injury, while the compensatory activation of molecules important for neutralizing ROS occurs at later time points. Therapeutic strategies aimed at facilitating the actions of antioxidant enzymes or inhibiting ROS formation and lipid peroxidation in the CNS may prove beneficial in treating traumatic spinal cord injury, provided such treatments are initiated at early stages following injury.