Abstract To characterize the cytoskeletal aberration due to traumatic injury, temporal and regional profiles of changes in immunoreactivity of microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP2), neurofilament heavy subunit protein (NFH) and heat shock protein 72 (HSP72) were investigated after different magnitudes of traumatic brain injury by fluid percussion. The experimental rat brain was perfusion-fixed at 1, 6 and 24 hours after traumatic brain injury. Conventional histological staining has demonstrated that the mildest traumatic brain injury (1.0 atm) induced no neuronal loss at the impact site and that neuron loss was apparent when traumatic brain injury was increased to 4.3 atm. The mildest traumatic brain injury, however, caused a significant increase in HSP72 immunoreactivity in the superficial cortical layers at the impact site as early as 1 hour after the injury. In the case of severe traumatic brain injury (4.3 atm), neuron loss was apparent in the area at the impact site, but the increase in HSP72 immunoreactivity was moderate, and it was observed only after 6 hours in the deep cortical layers under the necrotic area. The increased immunostaining of MAP2 was demonstrated in damaged axons and neuronal perikarya in the wider area surrounding the impact site at 6 and 24 hours after the injury. Six and 24 hours after the injury, perikaryal accumulation of neurofilament was observed, and the accumulated neurofilament was mostly phosphorylated. These results indicate that the severe traumatic brain injury of 4.3 atm triggers the abnormal accumulation of cytoskeletal proteins in neuronal perikarya, most probably due to an impairment of axonal transport. It is implied that the increased expression of HSP72 may be involved in the protective process of neurons after traumatic brain injury.