We reviewed the literature for disease-specific markers in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and evaluated their diagnostic and prognostic relevance in neurological diseases. High tau protein in combination with low amyloid beta levels has a high sensitivity (80%) and specificity (90%) for Alzheimer's disease (AD) against normal aging and can predict conversion of mild cognitive impairment to AD. The detection of 14-3-3 has a high sensitivity (80-90%) and specificity (90%) for the diagnosis of CJD. Low or undetectable CSF hypocretin-1 (orexin-1) levels constitute a diagnostic biomarker for narcolepsy with cataplexy. Detection of beta-2-transferrin indicates CSF contamination in oto- and rhinorrhoe with a sensitivity of > 79% at a specificity of 95% similar to the beta-trace protein (sensitivity > 90%, specificity 100%). However, beta-trace protein is faster and cheaper to perform. Possible future biomarkers are: elevated levels of vascular endothelial growth factor are relatively sensitive (51-100%) and specific (73-100%) for leptomeningeal metastases from solid tumors and are associated with a poor prognosis in this condition. Elevated CSF neurofilament (Nf) levels probably reflect acute neuronal degeneration. The prognostic value of CSF Nf levels is highest in acute conditions such as subarachnoid hemorrhage, acute optic neuritis and neuromyelitis optica.