Traumatic injury in the brain usually results in rapid degeneration of neuronal elements and a response by peripherally derived macrophages (brain macrophages, BMOs) and resident microglia. One intriguing result of lesions performed in the developing brain as compared to lesions of the mature brain is the faster resolution of the cellular debris and the absence of significant scarring. The purpose of this study was to examine the response of BMOs to induced cell death distant to the lesion site and to investigate possible differences in the responding phagocytic populations (BMOs versus microglia) following lesions in neonates and adults. Ablation of the visual cortex at birth results in very rapid retrograde degeneration and removal of neurons of the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) within a few days. Lesions to the visual cortex of adult rats also induce neurons within the dLGN to die, but these cells do so over a much more protracted time course. Utilizing differences in morphology and immunocytochemical staining with the monoclonal antibodies ED1 and OX-42 to distinguish between BMOs and microglia, we found that in the developing CNS, BMOs are signalled rapidly and specifically to the location of induced cell death. Microglia are not involved in this response. As might be expected, the temporal response in the adult is much more protracted. In contrast to the developing brain, microglia and not macrophages are the predominant responding cell class after the adult lesion. The data suggest that these are distinct populations of phagocytic cells that respond to brain damage during development and in the adult, which may be critical in modulating the resolution and growth response after injury.