The periods of ischemia and reperfusion represent different chracteristics by lack of oxygen and reoxygenation. The aim of this experimental spinal cord injury model was to investigate whether resveratrol has protective effects during ischemia or reperfusion and the mechanism of the protection by using N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase. Rabbits were divided into seven groups according to the time of administration of resveratrol or L-NAME (RI and RR, resveratrol during ischemia or reperfusion; IL and RL, L-NAME during ischemia or reperfusion; RILR, resveratrol during ischemia and L-NAME during reperfusion; LIRR, L-NAME during ischemia and resveratrol during reperfusion; control group). After neurologic evaluation at the twenty-fourth hour of reperfusion, lumbar spinal cords were removed for electron microscopic evaluation, immunohistochemical staining for apoptosis, and malondialdehyde (MDA) and myeloperoxidase (MPO) measurements. The RILR group had the best functional recovery, with a mean 3.6 Tarlov score (P < 0.05), and showed near normal electron microscopic findings (scores of 7.6 +/- 0.9 for the control group and 3.9 +/- 2.9 for the RILR group, P < 0.05). MPO and MDA levels were decreased in all groups compared with the control group, but only the decrement in the RILR group reached statistical significance. Immunohistochemical analysis showed that the groups including resveratrol and L-NAME together had the best staining for apoptosis. Resveratrol exhibits important protection by means of neurologic outcome, histopathologic analysis, and biochemical analysis, especially when used in during ischemia followed by L-NAME administration during reperfusion. Also, resveratrol protects against apoptosis, especially when combined with L-NAME.