Significant morbidity and mortality associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are allied with secondary posttrauma inflammatory complications. Hypothermia has been suggested as a possible treatment to lessen or suppress these inflammatory reactions. We report here that interleukin 1 beta, a cytokine responsible for initiating inflammatory cascades, is elevated in rat cortex within 6 h of TBI in the rat. Nerve growth factor (NGF) RNA and protein also increased subsequently, and NGF protein remained elevated for up to 7 days. Four hours of whole body hypothermia (32 degrees C), applied immediately after the TBI, attenuated the posttrauma increase in IL-1 beta RNA and eliminated the increase in NGF RNA and protein observed in cerebral cortex following TBI. Thus, hypothermia may be an effective therapy to diminish the posttrauma inflammatory cascade in the brain (as suggested by the decrease in IL-1 beta). However, the same treatment may hinder the brain's intrinsic repair mechanisms. Optimal treatment may, therefore, require supplemental administration of neurotrophic factors or other agents along with hypothermia.