We hypothesized that hydrocephalus can cause death of brain cells and that generation of new brain cells might compensate for the cell loss. Hydrocephalus was induced in 3-week-old rats by injection of kaolin into the cisterna magna. The brains were studied 1 to 4 weeks later by histochemical, immunochemical, and ultrastructural methods. The ventricles enlarged progressively. Some axons in the corpus callosum were injured as early as 1 week, but axonal damage was not prevalent until 4 weeks when ventriculomegaly became severe. Dying cells detected by DNA end labeling and often identified as oligodendrocytes by electron microscopy were evident in white matter. Late-stage hydrocephalus was associated with a significant increase in the quantity of dying cells. Hydrocephalus was associated with increased Ki67 labeling and bromodeoxyuridine incorporation in the subependymal zone. Reactive changes were identified among astrocytes, oligodendroglia, and microglia. We conclude that hydrocephalus causes, in addition to axonal injury, gradual cell death in the cerebrum, particularly the white matter. The brain response includes production of new glial cells, but whether the new cells play any beneficial role remains unknown.