Preterm birth and infectious diseases are the most common causes of neonatal and early childhood deaths worldwide. The rates of preterm birth have increased over recent decades and account for 11% of all births worldwide. Preterm infants are at significant risk of severe infection in early life and throughout childhood. Bacteraemia, inflammation, or both during the neonatal period in preterm infants is associated with adverse outcomes, including death, chronic lung disease, and neurodevelopmental impairment. Recent studies suggest that bacteraemia could trigger cerebral injury even without penetration of viable bacteria into the CNS. Here we review available evidence that supports the concept of a strong association between bacteraemia, inflammation, and cerebral injury in preterm infants, with an emphasis on the underlying biological mechanisms, clinical correlates, and translational opportunities. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.