For drugs that directly act on targets in the central nervous system (CNS), sufficient drug delivery into the brain is a prerequisite for drug action. Systemically administered drugs can reach CNS by passage across the endothelium of capillary vasculatures, the so-called blood-brain barrier (BBB). Literature data suggest that most marketed CNS drugs have good membrane permeability and relatively high plasma unbound fraction, but are not good P-glycoprotein (P-gp) substrates. Therefore, it is important to use the in vitro parameters of P-gp function activity, membrane permeability and plasma unbound fraction as key criteria for lead optimization during the early stage of drug discovery. Evidence from preclinical and clinical studies suggests that drug concentration in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) appears to be reasonably accurate in predicting unbound drug concentration in the brain. Therefore, CSF can be used as a useful surrogate for in vivo assessment of CNS exposure and provides an important basis for the selection of drug candidates for entry into development. However, it is important to point out that CSF drug concentration is not always an accurate surrogate for predicting unbound drug concentration in the brain. Depending on the physicochemical properties of drugs and the site/timing of CSF sampling, the unbound drug concentration at the biophase within the brain could differ significantly from the corresponding CSF drug concentration.