The blood-brain barrier (BBB) controls the exchange of regulatory substances, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF), between the brain and the blood. Transport across the BBB of some regulatory substances is altered with aging. Here, we measured the blood to brain unidirectional influx rate (Ki) for whole brain and 10 brain regions for radioactively labeled TNF in three groups of mice: young (2 mo old) ICR (the standard outbred albino laboratory mouse also termed CD-1), young SAMP8 (a strain which develops impaired learning and memory with aging that correlates with an age-related increase in brain levels of amyloid beta protein), and aged (17 mo) SAMP8 mice. In ICR mice, the hypothalamus had the fastest (1.73 microl/g-min) and the parietal cortex the slowest (0.189 microl/g-min) rates of uptake, a regional difference of about 9 fold. No differences in transport into whole brain or brain regions occurred between the ICR and young SAMP8, showing a lack of differences between strains. Transport was higher for the occipital cortex, midbrain, and striatum in aged SAMP8 mice. These results show blood-borne TNF enters some regions of the brain much more readily than others and TNF transport is increased into some brain regions of the SAMP8 mice at an age when learning and memory are impaired.