Nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity was studied in the gray and white matter regions of the spinal cord 2 and 5 days after multiple cauda equina constrictions of the central processes of L7-Co5 dorsal root ganglia neurons. The results show considerable differences in enzyme activity in the thoracic, upper lumbar, lower lumbar, and sacral segments. Increased NOS activity was observed at 2 days after multiple cauda equina constrictions in the dorsal, lateral, and ventral columns of the lower lumbar segments and in the ventral column of the upper lumbar segments. The values returned to control levels within 5 postconstriction days. In the lateral columns of thoracic segments taken 2 and 5 days after surgery, NOS activity was enhanced by 54% and 55% and in the upper lumbar segments by 130% and 163%, respectively. Multiple cauda equina constrictions performed surgically for 2 and 5 days caused a significant increase in NOS activity predominantly in the gray matter regions of thoracic segments. A quite different response was found 5 days postconstriction in the upper lumbar segments, where the enzyme activity was significantly decreased in the dorsal horn, intermediate zone, and ventral horn. No such extreme differences could be seen in the lower lumbar segments, where NOS activity was significantly enhanced only in the ventral horn. The data correspond with a higher number of NOS immunoreactive somata, quantitatively evaluated in the ventral horn of the lower lumbar segments at 5 days after multiple cauda equina constrictions. While the great region-dependent heterogeneity in NOS activity seen 2 and 5 days after multiple cauda equina constrictions is quite apparent and suggestive of an active role played by nitric oxide in neuroprotective or neurotoxic processes occurring in the gray and white matter of the spinal cord, the extent of damage or the degree of neuroprotection caused by nitric oxide in compartmentalized gray and white matter in this experimental paradigm would be possible only using longer postconstriction periods.