Brain injury affects a significant number of people each year. Organotypic cultures from resected normal neocortical tissue provide unique opportunities to study the cellular and neuropathological consequences of severe injury of adult human brain tissue in vitro. The in vitro injuries caused by resection (interruption of the circulation) and aggravated by the preparation of slices (severed neuronal and glial processes and blood vessels) reflect the reaction of human brain tissue to severe injury. We investigated this process using immunocytochemical markers, reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction and Western blot analysis. Essential features were rapid shrinkage of neurons, loss of neuronal marker expression and proliferation of reactive cells that expressed Nestin and Vimentin. Also, microglia generally responded strongly, whereas the response of glial fibrillary acidic protein-positive astrocytes appeared to be more variable. Importantly, some reactive cells also expressed both microglia and astrocytic markers, thus confounding their origin. Comparison with post-mortem human brain tissue obtained at rapid autopsies suggested that the reactive process is not a consequence of epilepsy.