Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) markers of brain damage are potentially capable of providing quantitative information about the extent of certain neurological injury. The presence of such markers in CSF after brain damage is transient and it is essential to understand their kinetics if they are to be used in clinical practice. In the present study, the CSF concentrations of two neurospecific proteins. S-100 protein and neuron-specific enolase (NSE), were determined in rats before and repeatedly after one of two types of experimental brain damage: traumatic cortical injury and focal cerebral ischemia induced by middle cerebral artery (MCA) occlusion. The two types of experimental brain damage resulted in significant differences in the kinetics of S-100 and NSE concentrations in CSF. Cortical contusion was followed by a rapid increase in both S-100 and NSE and a peak occurred in both after about 7 1/2 hours, at which time the values declined toward normal. A second, smaller peak was seen after about 1 1/2 days. The increase and decrease in S-100 and NSE levels in CSF was slower after MCA occlusion; a peak was seen after 2 to 4 days. Furthermore, S-100 was generally higher than NSE after trauma, whereas after MCA occlusion the NSE concentration was slightly higher than the S-100 value. These results support the use of CSF markers for estimation of the extent of brain damage in experimental models and forms a basis for the understanding of their kinetics, which is important for their use in clinical practice.