The blood-brain barrier minimizes the entry of molecules into brain tissue. This restriction arises by the presence of tight junctions (zonulae occludens) between adjacent endothelial cells and a relative paucity of pinocytotic vesicles within endothelium of cerebral arterioles, capillaries, and venules. Many types of stimuli can alter the permeability characteristics of the blood-brain barrier. Acute increases in arterial blood pressure beyond the autoregulatory capacity of cerebral blood vessels, application of hyperosmolar solutions, application of various inflammatory mediators known to be elevated during brain injury, and/or activation of blood-borne elements such as leukocytes can produce changes in permeability of the blood-brain barrier. The second messenger systems that account for increases in permeability of the blood-brain barrier during pathophysiologic conditions, however, remain poorly defined. This review will summarize studies that have examined factors that influence disruption of the blood-brain barrier, and will discuss the contribution of various cellular second messenger pathways in disruption of the blood-brain barrier during pathophysiologic conditions.