Central nervous system (CNS) infections continue to be an important cause of morbidity and mortality. Microbial invasion and traversal of the blood-brain barrier is a prerequisite for CNS infections. Pathogens can cross the blood-brain barrier transcellularly, paracellularly and/or in infected phagocytes (the so-called Trojan-horse mechanism). Consequently, pathogens can cause blood-brain barrier dysfunction, including increased permeability, pleocytosis and encephalopathy. A more complete understanding of the microbial-host interactions that are involved in microbial traversal of the blood-brain barrier and the associated barrier dysfunction should help to develop new strategies to prevent CNS infections.