We hypothesized that local delivery of GDNF in spinal cord lesion via an injectable alginate hydrogel gelifying in situ would support spinal cord plasticity and functional recovery. The GDNF release from the hydrogel was slowed by GDNF encapsulation in microspheres compared to non-formulated GDNF (free GDNF). When injected in a rat spinal cord hemisection model, more neurofilaments were observed in the lesion when the rats were treated with free GDNF-loaded hydrogels. More growing neurites were detected in the tissues surrounding the lesion when the animals were treated with GDNF microsphere-loaded hydrogels. Intense GFAP (astrocytes), low betaIII tubulin (neural cells) and RECA-1 (endothelial cells) stainings were observed for non-treated lesions while GDNF-treated spinal cords presented less GFAP staining and more endothelial and nerve fiber infiltration in the lesion site. The animals treated with free GDNF-loaded hydrogel presented superior functional recovery compared with the animals treated with the GDNF microsphere-loaded hydrogels and non-treated animals.