Spinal cord injury (SCI) results in chronic pain states in which the underlying mechanism is poorly understood. To begin to explore possible mechanisms, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a neuropeptide confined to fine primary afferent terminals in laminae I and II in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord and implicated in pain transmission, was selected. Immunocytochemical techniques were used to examine the temporal and spatial distribution of CGRP in the spinal cord following T-13 spinal cord hemisection in adult male Sprague-Dawley rats compared to that seen in sham controls. Spinal cords from both hemisected and sham control groups (N = 5, per time point) were examined on postoperative day (POD) 3, 5, 7, 14, and 108 following surgery. Sham operated rats displayed CGRP immunoreaction product in laminae I and II outer, Lissauer's tract, dorsal roots, and motor neurons of the ventral horn. In the hemisected group, densiometric data demonstrated an increased deposition of reaction product that was statistically significant, in laminae III and IV, both ipsilateral and contralateral to the lesion that extended at least two segments rostral and caudal to the hemisection site by POD 14, and remained significantly elevated as long as POD 108. Since upregulation alone of CGRP would occur in an acute temporal window (by 2 to 3 days following spinal injury), these results are interpreted to be invasion of laminae III and IV by sprouting of CGRP containing fine primary afferents. Intrathecal delivery of antibodies against purified 2.5S nerve growth factor for 14 days to the hemisected group resulted in CGRP density in laminae I through IV that was significantly less than that seen in untreated or vehicle treated hemisected groups and to sham controls. These data indicate changes in density and distribution of CGRP following spinal hemisection that can be manipulated by changes in endogenous levels of NGF. These observations suggest possible strategies for intervention in the development of various pain states in human SCI.