Objective. To demonstrate the changes in microvascular permeability occurring in association with graded acute spinal cord injury and to determine whether tissue Evans blue content is a useful indicator of the severity of spinal cord injury. The study also aimed to test the ability of the Evans blue method to demonstrate secondary injury after spinal cord contusion. Methods. In step one of the study, spinal cord lipid peroxidation levels and spinal cord Evans blue content were evaluated at 2 h post-injury in five groups of rats: a control group, a laminectomy-only group and three trauma groups (10, 50, and 100 g cm). In step two, these rats were used for Evans blue assessment following clinical examination at 24 h post-injury. Results. The laminectomy-only group showed no difference from the control group with regard to spinal cord lipid peroxidation levels, tissue Evans blue content, and clinical findings. Increase in spinal cord tissue Evans blue content and lipid peroxidation was correlated with increasing intensity of trauma. There was a negative correlation between trauma intensity and clinical findings, and there was an increase in spinal cord tissue Evans blue content at 24 h compared with that at 2 h. Conclusions. Determination of spinal cord tissue Evans blue content is a reliable, rapid, simple and inexpensive method that can be used in experimental spinal cord injury to assess the severity of injury and to evaluate neuroprotection studies. The present study is the first to show that the Evans blue technique is a useful method to demonstrate secondary injury of spinal cord tissue and vasculature. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.