In this study we examined the relationship between autophagy and apoptosis in diabetic rats after spinal cord injury (SCI), also we determined the role of autophagy in diabetes-aggravated neurological injury in vivo and in vitro. Our results showed that diabetes decreased the survival of neurons, promoted astrocytes proliferation, increased inflammatory cells infiltration and inhibited functional recovery after SCI. Diabetes was shown to confer increased activation of apoptotic pathways, along with an increase in autophagy; similar effects were also observed in vitro in neuronal PC12 cells. Treatment with rapamycin, an autophagy activator, partially abolished the adverse effect of diabetes, suggesting that diabetes may enhance neurological damage and suppress locomotor recovery after SCI, in addition to its effects on apoptosis and autophagy. In contrast, further stimulation of autophagy improved neurological function via inhibition of apoptosis. These results explained how diabetes exacerbates SCI in cellular level and suggested autophagy stimulation to be a new therapeutic strategy for diabetic SCI.