A breakdown of the blood-brain barrier occurred in mice inoculated intracerebrally (i.c.) or intraperitoneally (i.p.) with dengue virus type 2 (DEN2). This resulted in leakage of protein-bound Evans blue dye and 51Cr-labelled erythrocytes into the brain tissue. The leakage increased with time after infection and coincided with an increase of a DEN2-induced cytokine, the cytotoxic factor (CF), in the spleens of such mice. The titres of virus in the brain increased exponentially in i.c. inoculated mice but the virus was not detected in brains of mice given DEN2 by the i.p. route. Similar breakdown of the blood-brain barrier also occurred in mice inoculated intravenously with CF; the damage was dose-dependent and the vascular integrity was restored during the 3 h period after inoculation. Treatment of mice with antihistamine drugs, blocking H1 or H2 receptors, decreased the DEN2-induced protein leakage by up to 50% in i.c. inoculated mice and up to 92% in those inoculated i.p. Indomethacin, a prostaglandin synthetase inhibitor, had no effect. In i.c. inoculated mice protein leakage was inhibited by about 60% by treatment with CF-specific (CFA) or DEN2-specific antisera (DEN2A) whereas protection was complete with the combined treatment with both antisera. On the other hand, in i.p. inoculated mice the inhibition of protein leakage was 80 to 89% with CFA. These findings show a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier leading to cerebral oedema during DEN2 infection which is mediated via the release of histamine by a virus-induced cytokine.