The nervous and the immune systems share several molecules that control their development and function. We studied the temporal and spatial distribution of the immunoreactivity of two acute-phase cytokines, TNF-alpha and IL-1beta, in the developing sheep neocortex and compared it with the well-described distribution of fetuin, a fetal glycoprotein also known to modulate the production of cytokines by lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated monocytes and macrophages. TNF-alpha was present first at embryonic day 30 (E30) (term is 150 days in sheep) as a faint band of immunoreactivity between the ventricular zone and the primordial plexiform layer (preplate). IL-1beta was detected at the first appearance of the cortical plate (E35-E40). Both cytokines were present on both sides of the cortical plate, which contained fetuin-positive cells, but was free from cytokine staining. By E60, TNF-alpha immunoreactivity was less prominent than that of IL-1beta and was confined to the marginal zone and outer developing white matter; IL-1beta was present in the marginal zone and in two bands of immunoreactive cells, one at the border of the cortical plate/developing layer VI (cells of neuronal morphology) and the other at the border of layer V and the developing white matter (identified as microglia). By E80, TNF-alpha staining had disappeared and IL-1beta-immunopositive microglia were no longer detectable. By E100-E140 only a few immunoreactive cells were identified in layers V-VI; these did not co-localize with fetuin-positive cells. The differences in distribution between fetuin and the two cytokines suggest that the opsonizing role of fetuin, proposed for monocyte production of cytokines, is probably not present in the developing brain. However, early in neocortical development TNF-alpha and IL-1beta were present in the subplate zone at a time of intense synaptogenesis.