alpha-Phenyl-N-tert-butyl Nitrone (PBN) is a free radical scavenger which recently has proved to be neuroprotective in experimental studies on focal cerebral ischemia and infarction. We therefore studied the effect of this drug in a model of moderate compression injury to rat spinal cord at the midthoracic level. The compound was given intraperitoneally 0.5 h before (100 mg/kg b.w) and at 1.5 h (50 mg/kg b.w) and 3.5 h (50 mg/kg b.w) after compression. Treated animals and controls (vehicle alone) were allowed to survive for 1 or 9 days following trauma. The functional outcome was tested by the inclined plane method and the motor performance score. By using MAP2 immunostaining the number of nerve cell bodies in the ventral horn and the ratio of MAP2 immunostained area to area of whole section of the cord were assessed to detect loss of neurons and loss of dendrites in the compressed segment. beta APP and PGP9.5 immunostaining was used to demonstrate axonal lesions. Treated and control rats showed at day 1 when tested with the inclined plane method a marked reduction of the capacity angle. This abnormality recovered gradually over the following days and was normalized at day 9. The motor performance score showed a marked reduction at day 1 which almost normalized at day 9. There was no difference regarding the functional outcome between rats given PBN and controls in none one of these functional tests. The spinal cord of normal rats presented immunoreactivity to MAP2 in nerve cell bodies and dendrites but not in axons and other structures. Following compression there was at day 1 and 9 a marked loss of MAP2 immunoreactivity in dendrites and nerve cell bodies. We could not detect any difference between the PBN and the control rats regarding the degree of cell loss or degree of reduction of dendrite staining. No difference between the two groups was seen with the axonal immunostainings (beta APP and PGP9.5). In conclusion, our study did not reveal any neuroprotective effect of PBN on the functional outcome and morphology (immunostaining to MAP2, beta APP and PGP9.5) in this model of moderate compression trauma to rat spinal cord.