The inflammatory reaction following experimental brain contusion was studied by immunohistochemistry in 22 rats during the first 16 days after trauma. An inflammatory mononuclear cell response was evident on day 2, with a maximum on days 5–6 and signs remained still 16 days after the trauma. The time course of the cellular infiltration adjacent to the lesion correlated with blood brain barrier dysfunction in the contralateral side of the traumatized hemisphere. The cellular infiltrate comprised NK cells, T-helper cells and T-cytotoxic/suppressor cells as well as monocytes/macrophages. Most of the macrophages appeared to be activated by T-cells. Surprisingly, polymorphonuclear cells appeared less engaged than mononuclear cells in the inflammation. The demonstration of immunocompetent cells and the induction of MHC-1 and MHC-II antigen provides a substrate for inflammatory reactions similar to those that cause neurological damage in inflammatory diseases such as viral infections, multiple sclerosis and experimental allergic encephalitis. Our observations indicate that the role of the inflammatory reactions may have a role, hitherto neglected, in the pathogenesis of secondary traumatic brain injury.