Leukocyte migration into and through tissues is fundamental to normal physiology, immunopathology and host defence. Leukocyte entry into the central nervous system (CNS) is restricted, in part, because of the blood-brain barrier (BBB). During the past decade, crucial components that are involved in the process of leukocyte migration have been identified and progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms of neuroinflammatory reactions. In this review, present knowledge of the trafficking determinants that guide the migration of leukocytes is superimposed onto the vascular and compartmental anatomy of the CNS. We discuss three distinct routes for leukocytes to enter the CNS and consider how different populations of leukocytes use trafficking signals to gain entry.