miRNAs dysregulate in spinal cord injury (SCI) and have been demonstrated to play a crucial role in neurite outgrowth. However, the underlying mechanism remains elusive. In this study, we constructed a mouse model of SCI, extracted RNA from injured spinal cord tissue for the use of microarray assay. miR-181d-5p which is one of the most significantly expressed miRNAs in miRNA-mRNA network, abundantly expressed in center system and highly conserved across different spices, was chosen for our further study. To demonstrate whether miR-181d-5p can promote neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells via PI3K/Akt signaling pathway, we performed function analysis of miR-181d-5p with LV-miR-181d-5p and LV-sh-GFP to infect PC12 cells. Through microarray assay analysis, we totally found 262 significantly expressed miRNAs and 2973 target genes in SCI and observed that their expression dynamically changed postinjury. Here, we provided enough evidences that the overexpression of miR181d-5p significantly decreased the expression of PTEN, upregulated p-Akt expression, increased neurite outgrowth-related proteins (GAP-43 and NF-200) and synaptic vesicle-related proteins (Synapsin and PSD95), and then promoted neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells. Furthermore, we confirmed that miR-181d-5p could directly target to the 3'-UTR of PTEN mRNA through dual-luciferase report assay. Our study supports that aberrant expression of miRNAs is involved in the pathogenesis of SCI, miR-181d-5p plays an important role in neurite growth in PC12 cells via PI3K/Akt signaling pathway and may be a candidate target for the treatment of SCI in the future. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.