This review summarizes the current scientific literature concerning the ependymal lining of the cerebral ventricles of the brain with an emphasis on selective barrier function and protective roles for the common ependymal cell. Topics covered include the development, morphology, protein and enzyme expression including reactive changes, and pathology. Some cells lining the neural tube are committed at an early stage to becoming ependymal cells. They serve a secretory function and perhaps act as a cellular/axonal guidance system, particularly during fetal development. In the mature mammalian brain ependymal cells possess the structural and enzymatic characteristics necessary for scavenging and detoxifying a wide variety of substances in the CSF, thus forming a metabolic barrier at the brain-CSF interface.