The kinetics of leukocyte recruitment during acute inflammation in adult mouse brain differ from the stereotyped response occurring in non-CNS tissues; neutrophil recruitment is minimal and monocyte recruitment occurs after a 48 h delay. One aspect of the CNS microenvironment which may contribute to restricted leukocyte recruitment is the highly differentiated nature of resident CNS macrophages, the microglia. Thus we studied the inflammatory response to intracerebral injections of endotoxin in neonates in which microglia are less differentiated and resemble more closely macrophages of non-CNS tissues. Mice injected with endotoxin on the day of birth exhibited both neutrophil and monocyte recruitment to the parenchyma, but the response differed from that occurring in non-CNS tissues such as skin. Leukocyte recruitment was very slow, the mononuclear phagocyte response peaking 14 days after endotoxin injection. This sluggish inflammatory response was reminiscent of that previously described in fetal wounds. However, when endotoxin was injected into brains of 7-day-old neonates the inflammatory response resembled that seen in non-CNS tissues; i.e. prolific neutrophil recruitment and a brisk mononuclear phagocyte response. Thus the unusual inflammatory cell kinetics are a property of the mature CNS microenvironment; all signals necessary to support typical leukocyte recruitment are present in the brain by 7 days of age but the brain becomes able to restrict leukocyte immigration during subsequent postnatal development. Developmental changes in the host response to identical inflammatory challenges suggest a window during which the brain may be particularly vulnerable to inflammatory bystander damage.