Cerebral edema is caused by a variety of pathological conditions that affect the brain. It is associated with two separate pathophysiological processes with distinct molecular and physiological antecedents: those related to cytotoxic (cellular) edema of neurons and astrocytes, and those related to transcapillary flux of Na+ and other ions, water, and serum macromolecules. In this review, the authors focus exclusively on the first of these two processes. Cytotoxic edema results from unchecked or uncompensated influx of cations, mainly Na+, through cation channels. The authors review the different cation channels that have been implicated in the formation of cytotoxic edema of astrocytes and neurons in different pathological states. A better understanding of these molecular mechanisms holds the promise of improved treatments of cerebral edema and of the secondary injury produced by this pathological process.