The mechanism of brain cell injury associated with intracerebral hemorrhage may be in part related to proteolytic enzymes in blood, some of which are also functional in the developing brain. We hypothesized that there would be an age-dependent brain response following intracerebral injection of blood, thrombin, and plasminogen. Mice at 3 ages (neonatal, 10-day-old, and young adult) received autologous blood (15, 25, and 50 microl respectively), thrombin (3, 5, and 10 units respectively), plasminogen (0.03, 0.05, and 0.1 units respectively) (the doses expected in same volume blood), or saline injection into lateral striatum. Forty-eight hours later they were perfusion fixed. Hematoxylin and eosin, lectin histochemistry, Fluoro-Jade, and TUNEL staining were used to quantify changes related to the hemorrhagic lesion. Damage volume, dying neurons, neutrophils, and microglial reaction were significantly greater following injections of blood, plasminogen, and thrombin compared to saline in all three ages of mice. Plasminogen and thrombin associated brain damage was greatest in neonatal mice and, in that group unlike the other 2, greater than the damage caused by whole blood. These results suggest that the neonatal brain is relatively more sensitive to proteolytic plasma enzymes than the mature brain.