Metastasis of melanoma to the central nervous system (CNS) remains one of the major barriers to successful treatment of this disease. Available treatment modalities are of limited clinical efficacy. This problem is compounded by the presence of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), an important consideration in the development of new therapeutic agents. Only in animal models can the dual properties of experimental tumours and the BBB be explored in one system. A variety of rodent models have been developed, utilizing both murine and human melanoma cell lines. These models have highlighted the complex biology of cerebral metastasis, involving apparent disease progression through the selection of subclones at each stage, eventually leading to disease in the brain. As demonstrated in a number of animal studies, different subpopulations of metastatic melanoma cells are likely to be responsible for parenchymal and leptomeningeal CNS disease. In addition, these animal systems have been used to demonstrate the potential efficacy of new chemotherapeutic drugs, radiation treatments and immunotherapeutic approaches for the treatment of melanoma brain metastasis. Key biological questions remain to be answered. In particular, the molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for establishing cerebral melanoma must be clearly delineated. Several molecules, including vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and integrins, appear to play important, but not definitive, roles. Other, as yet undefined, molecules appear to be critical. The identification of these factors in experimental models, with confirmatory studies in humans, will expand our understanding of cerebral melanoma and provide valuable new therapeutic targets for intervention in this difficult clinical problem.