A quantitative analysis of microstructure and strength as a function of strain is presented for polycrystalline nickel (99.5%) deformed by high-pressure torsion in the strain range vertical bar-300 (epsilon(VM), von Mises strain). Typical lamellar structures consisting of extended boundaries and short interconnecting boundaries have been found, with additional features at large strains which are equiaxed regions, small equiaxed subgrains and deformation twins. The evolution of microstructure and microstructural parameters falls in stages: (i) the first stage at epsilon(VM) = vertical bar-12; (ii) a transition stage at epsilon(VM) = 12-34; and (iii) a saturation stage at epsilon(VM) >= 34. A scaling analysis of spacing between boundaries shows a universal behavior up to epsilon(VM) = 300 indicating that the predominant deformation mechanism is dislocation glide can guide the development of strong metals with a structural scale extending below 50-100 nm. (c) 2008 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.