We investigated the time course of neuron specific enolase (NSE) and S-100 protein after severe head injury in correlation to outcome. We included 30 patients (GCS < 9), who had been admitted within 5 hours after injury, in a prospective study. Blood samples were taken on admission, 6, 12, and 24 hours and every 24 hours up to the fifth day after injury. The outcome was estimated on discharge using the Glasgow Outcome Scale. 70% reached a good outcome. All concentrations of NSE and 83% of the S-100 samples were elevated concerning the first probe (30.2 micrograms/l NSE mean and 2.6 micrograms/l S-100 mean). Patients with bad outcome had an NSE concentration of 38 micrograms/l (mean) compared with 26.9 micrograms/l (mean) in patients with good outcome. Patients with bad outcome had an S-100 concentration of 4.9 micrograms/l (mean) compared with 1.7 micrograms/l (mean) in patients with good outcome (p < 0.05). The mean values of NSE and S-100 decreased during the first 5 days. Four patients with increasing intracranial pressure showed a quick increasing concentration of NSE, in two patients the S-100 level showed a slower rise. The NSE serum levels did not correlate with intracranial pressure values. Our results show that the first serum concentration of S-100 seems to be predictive for outcome after severe head injury.