We studied the effect of a single focal injection of recombinant basic (FGF2) or acidic (FGF1) fibroblast growth factor on the survival of spinal motor neurones at 24 h after a standardized spinal cord contusion injury (SCI) in the rat. Both FGF2 and FGF1 (3 μg), microinjected into the injury site at 5 min post-injury (p.i.), protected at least two functionally important classes of spinal motor neurones, autonomic preganglionic neurones in the intermediolateral (IML) column and somatic motor neurones in the ventral horn (VH). Moreover, there was enhanced choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) immunoreactivity in surviving VH and IML neurones, suggesting an improved functional status. Thus, neurotrophic factors such as FGF2 and FGF1 may contribute to an overall strategy to treat acute SCI and improve recovery of function.