The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of preoperative external cobalt60 beam irradiation on nerve regeneration. Ninety 250-g male Sprague-Dawley rats were studied. Peripheral nerve regeneration was measured by walking track analysis and histomorphology of the proximal, grafted, and distal nerve segments. Ninety animals were randomly assigned to one of five treatment groups, receiving a total fractionated dose of 30, 50, 70, and 90 Gy. Each animal received a 15-mm interposition nerve graft into the right posterior tibial nerve 6 weeks following completion of radiation therapy. The left leg served as a control. The remaining 10 animals received a nerve isograft subjected to a single dose of 30 Gy prior to placement (group 5). Walking track analysis was performed monthly through 8 months. At the conclusion of 120 and 240 days, sections of the proximal, grafted, and distal nerve were harvested, stained, and examined histomorphologically. Evaluation of the print length index demonstrated no statistical difference between our previously established nonirradiated controls, the irradiated groups, and the irradiated isograft group (group 5). The total number of axons per square millimeter was significantly decreased in the distal segment of all irradiated groups when compared with the controls. No statistical difference in number of axons per square millimeter was noted in the irradiated isograft group. Furthermore, no statistical difference was noted in the nerve fiber density between the control group, the preoperative irradiated groups, or the irradiated isograft group (group 5). Despite the reduction in myelinated regenerating fibers, no reduction in function was observed as measured by walking track analysis. Thus, immediate reconstruction of peripheral nerve defects in the face of preoperative irradiation may not be contraindicated.