We recently found that rubrospinal (RS) neurons, which typify central neurons projecting within the central nervous system (CNS), exhibited different neuronal and glial reactions to axotomy at proximal as opposed to distal sites. To determine whether distance also determines the reaction to axonal injury of central neurons projecting to the periphery, we studied the temporal expression of four free-radical-related enzymes as well as the severity of cell loss, perineuronal astrocytic and microglial reactions, and degeneration of the proximal central axons of facial motoneurons after axotomies performed at various sites on the brainstem surface and in the stylomastoid foramen, respectively. Distal lesions resulted in upregulation of these neurons' expression of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and persistent downregulation of their expression of the NOS-activating enzyme calcineurin. It also led to transient upregulation of their expression of manganese-dependent superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD), and resulted in a mild neuronal loss. Proximal axotomy led to an upregulation of NOS but a transient downregulation in the expression of calcineurin and Mn-SOD at 4 weeks after injury. This was accompanied by severe cell loss and swelling of mitochondria at 2-4 weeks postinjury. However, neither proximal nor distal axonal lesioning led to nuclear fragmentation or TUNEL staining of neurons. Proximal as opposed to distal axotomy produced an earlier transformation of glial morphology, including the hypertrophy of astrocytic processes and metamorphosis of ramified microglia to amoeboid cells. We unexpectedly found that unlike RS neurons, whose central axons degenerated slowly and in an anterograde manner only after the severe cell loss induced by proximal axotomy, the central axons of facial motoneurons degenerated rapidly and in a retrograde manner independently of the severity of loss of these neurons after axotomy. However, degeneration began sooner after proximal than after distal axotomy. Since the central axons of both rubrospinal neurons and facial motoneurons lie within the CNS, the differences in whether and how they degenerated after axotomy suggests that central neurons that project within and outside the CNS are inherently different. The significance of these and also the free radical environment regulation differences between these two types of neurons following close and distant axotomies remains to be explored.