To investigate the role of sialic acid in the ependyma of the rat brain, we injected neuraminidase from Clostridium perfingens into the lateral ventricle of 86 adult rats that were sacrificed at various time intervals. After administration of 10 micrograms neuraminidase, ciliated cuboidal ependymal cells of the lateral ventricles, third ventricle, cerebral aqueduct, and the rostral half of the fourth ventricle died and detached. The ependymal regions sealed by tight junctions such as the choroid plexus and the subcommissural organ were not affected. Debris was removed by infiltrating neutrophils and macrophagic cells. At the same time, after ependymal disappearance, the aqueduct was obliterated. In this region, mitoses were evident and cystic ependymal cells were frequent. Hydrocephalus of the lateral and third ventricles was evident 4 days after neuraminidase injection. Gliosis was restricted to the dorsal telencephalic wall of the injected lateral ventricle. It is thought that cleavage of sialic acid from ependymal surface glycoproteins or glycolipids, likely involved in cell adhesion, led to the detaching and death of the ependymal cells. Thereafter, ependymal loss, together with edema, led to fusion of the lateral walls of the cerebral aqueduct and this in turn provoked hydrocephalus of the third and lateral ventricles. This model of experimental hydrocephalus is compared with other models, in particular those of hydrocephalus after viral invasion of the cerebral ventricles.