Methane is reported to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic properties. We investigated the potential neuroprotective effects of methane-rich saline (MS) on spinal cord ischemia-reperfusion injury and determined that its therapeutic benefits are associated with the activation of nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). Rats received 9 min of spinal cord ischemia induced by occlusion of the descending thoracic aorta plus systemic hypotension followed by a single MS treatment (10 ml/kg, ip) and 72 h reperfusion. MS treatment attenuated motor sensory deficits and produced high concentrations of methane in spinal cords during reperfusion, which increased Nrf2 expression and transcriptional activity in neurons, microglia and astrocytes in the ventral, intermediate and dorsal gray matter of lumbar segments. Heme oxygenase-1, superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione were upregulated; and glutathione disulfide, superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, malondialdehyde, 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine and 3-nitrotyrosine were downregulated in MS-treated spinal cords. MS treatment reduced neuronal apoptosis in gray matter zones, which was consistent with the suppression of cytochrome c release to the cytosol from the mitochondria and the activation of caspase-9 and -3. Throughout the gray matter, the activation of microglia and astrocytes was inhibited; the nuclear accumulation of phosphorylated nuclear factor-kappa B p65 was reduced; and tumor necrosis factor α, interleukin 1β, chemokine (C-X-C motif) ligand 1, intercellular adhesion molecule 1 and myeloperoxidase were decreased. MS treatment attenuated blood-spinal cord barrier dysfunction by preventing the expression and activity of matrix metallopeptidase-9 and disrupting tight junction proteins. Consecutive intrathecal injection of specific siRNAs targeting Nrf2 at 24-h intervals 3 days before ischemia reduced the beneficial effects of MS. Our data indicate that MS treatment prevents IR-induced spinal cord damage via antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic activities that involve the activation of Nrf2 signaling. Thus, methane may serve as a novel promising therapeutic agent for treating ischemic spinal cord injury.