A growing body of evidence points out the potential role of inflammatory mechanisms in the pathophysiology of ischaemic brain damage. We have recently demonstrated that stroke patients display an intrathecal production of proinflammatory cytokines, such as IL-1beta and IL-6 already within the first 24 h after the beginning of symptoms (Tarkowski et al., 1995). The aim of the present study was to investigate patterns of local inflammatory responses as a consequence of acute stroke. Thirty stroke patients were studied prospectively on days 0-3, 7-9, 21-26 and after day 90 with clinical evaluations, radiological assessments and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) cytokine levels. In addition, 15 healthy control CSF samples were used. Significantly increased CSF levels of IL-8, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and IL-10 were observed early during the stroke with a peak on day 2 for the proinflammatory cytokines IL-8 and GM-CSF, and on day 3 for the immunoregulatory cytokine IL-10. Patients with a brain infarct predominantly located in the white matter showed significantly higher levels of IL-8 in CSF than patients with an infarct mainly located in the grey matter. Also, high levels of intrathecal tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) were associated with the presence of white matter disease. Our study demonstrates an intrathecal production of proinflammatory and immunoregulatory cytokines in patients with stroke, supporting the notion of localized immune response to the acute brain lesion. A better understanding of the inflammatory response in stroke may lead to new treatment strategies.