Background: The complement system has been suggested to affect injury or disease of the central nervous system (CNS) by regulating numerous physiological events and pathways. The activation of complement following traumatic CNS injury can also result in the formation and deposition of C5b-9 membrane attack complex (C5b-9/MAC), causing cell lysis or sublytic effects on vital CNS cells. Although complement proteins derived from serum/blood-brain barrier breakdown can contribute to injury or disease, infiltrating immune cells may represent an important local source of complement after injury. As the first immune cells to infiltrate the CNS within hours post-injury, polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) may affect injury through mechanisms associated with complement-mediated events. However, the expression/association of both early and terminal complement proteins by PMNs has not been fully characterized in vitro, and has not observed previously in vivo after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). Method: We investigated the expression of complement mRNAs using rt-PCR and the presence of complement proteins associated with PMNs using immunofluroescence and quantitative flow cytometry. Results: Stimulated or unstimulated PMNs expressed mRNAs encoding for C1q, C3, and C4, but not C5, C6, C7 or C9 in culture. Complement protein C1q or C3 was also detected in less than 30% of cultured PMNs. In contrast, over 70% of PMNs that infiltrated the injured spinal cord were associated with C1q, C3, C7 and C5b-9/MAC 3 days post-SCI. The localization/association of C7 or C5b-9/MAC with infiltrating PMNs in the injured spinal cord suggests the incorporation or internalization of C7 or C5b-9/MAC bound cellular debris by infiltrating PMNs because C7 and C5b-9/MAC were mostly localized to granular vesicles within PMNs at the spinal cord epicenter region. Furthermore, PMN presence in the injured spinal cord was observed for many weeks post-SCI, suggesting that this infiltrating cell population could chronically affect complement-mediated events and SCI pathogenesis after trauma. Conclusion: Data presented here provide the first characterization of early and terminal complement proteins associated with PMNs in vitro and in vivo after SCI. Data also suggest a role for PMNs in the local internalization or deliverance of complement and complement activation in the post-SCI environment.