Acute inflammation is important for defence against infection, wound repair and the mediation of auto-immune tissue destruction. Myelomonocytic recruitment in acute inflammation is a stereotyped and non-specific response to tissue insult which begins within 2 h. In this study, lipopolysaccharide was injected into the murine CNS and other body sites of mice to compare the inflammatory responses. Doses of lipopolysaccharide which induced typical myelomonocytic recruitment in skin and the choroid plexus had no effect in CNS parenchyma, apart from the morphological activation of local resident microglia. The CNS parenchymal response proceeded independently of that in the choroid plexus-cerebral ventricles and had three distinct and unique phases. Initially there was minimal neutrophil exudation and a two-day delay before any increase in macrophage-microglial cell number. Next, there was a rapid increase in macrophage-microglial cell numbers during the third day, mainly due to recruitment of blood monocytes. During this phase, leukocyte recruitment was restricted to monocytes which rapidly adopted the arborized microglial phenotype. Monocytes migrated through an intact blood-brain barrier independent of changes in solute permeability. Finally, there was a florid myelomonocytic reaction predominantly in the white matter, one week after intracerebral injection of 2 micrograms lipopolysaccharide. At this time, the leukocyte reaction disrupted the blood-brain barrier, mononuclear phagocytes expressed macrophage morphology and abundant major histocompatibility complex Class II antigen, and T lymphocytes were present. Myelomonocytic entry into the CNS was partially inhibited by prior blockade of the type 3 complement receptor, known to mediate leukocyte adhesion to endothelium elsewhere. The processes which lead to rapid myelomonocytic recruitment in other tissues are absent in CNS parenchyma. Understanding the molecular mechanisms responsible could have considerable significance both for CNS pathophysiology as well as possible anti-inflammatory therapeutic application elsewhere in the body.