Pneumococcal meningitis in St. Petersburg in the period 1985-1991 occurred in 1.7-2.3 children per 100,000 annually. The most common serotypes among pneumococcal strains isolated from patients with meningitis were 19, 1, 6, 15, and 2, whereas, among the capsulated strains isolated from carriers, type 3 predominated. Only one third of strains from cases of meningitis were highly virulent for mice (types 1, 2, 3). Hyaluronidase was produced by all the 39 studied strains, 22 (84.6 +/- 7.1%) out of 26 strains from patients with otitis media, and only by 15 (11.5 +/- 2.8%) out of 130 strains isolated from carriers. Non-capsulated strains lacked this enzyme. Results of intranasal inoculation of pneumococcal strains with different hyaluronidase activity and addition of exogenous hyaluronidase to strains which did not produce the enzyme confirm the hypothesis that this enzyme plays an important role in bacterial dissemination and breaching of the blood brain barrier by pneumococci. It was concluded that high hyaluronidase activity, presence of capsule, and pneumolysin or serotype (1, 2, and 19) despite hyaluronidase titer, are the most important factors contributing to the development of pneumococcal meningitis. The role of the mouse toxic factor is unclear.