Using behavioural, morphological and immunohistochemical analysis, the effect of intrathecal administration of a substance P antagonist, Spantide [D-Arg1, D-Trp7,9, Leu11)-SP), was studied. Antisera raised against markers for motoneurons, local spinal neurons, descending bulbospinal systems and primary afferents were used. The effect of some drugs, including thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), on Spantide-induced effects were also analyzed. After injection of 2 micrograms of Spantide at the lumbar level, a marked necrosis of the spinal cord was observed extending for about 5-6 segments, affecting mostly the ventral horns. Thus, calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP)-like immunoreactivity (LI) in motoneurons completely disappeared and no motoneurons could be seen in cresyl violet-stained sections. The first changes were observed 6 h after Spantide injection and at 24 h a complete necrosis was seen. Marked reductions in the number of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)- and substance P-positive fibers were also observed. The effects were less dramatic in the dorsal horns, but at the site of maximal effects there was a disturbance also of CGRP-, substance P-, and neuropeptide tyrosine (NPY)-positive fibers in the superficial layers of the dorsal horn. These effects could be completely counteracted by multiple intravenous injections of TRH as well as with 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeDMT), a 5-HT agonist. The behavioural analysis showed parallel changes, with permanent motor impairment after Spantide-treatment and complete absence of these symptoms when TRH or 5-MeDMT was given in addition. Finally, the effect of Spantide on 5-HT, noradrenaline, substance P and CGRP levels was measured biochemically. The present results are discussed in the light of recent findings that Spantide can cause a dramatic reduction in spinal blood flow.