The present investigation provides novel information on the topographical distribution of macrophages and dendritic cells (DCs) in normal meninges and choroid plexus of the rat central nervous system (CNS). Whole-mounts of meninges and choroid plexus of Lewis rats were incubated with various anti-leucocyte monoclonal antibodies and either visualised with gold-conjugated secondary antibody followed by silver enhancement and subsequent examination by environmental scanning electron microscopy or by the use of fluorochromes and confocal microscopy. Large numbers of MHC class II+ putative DCs were identified on the internal or subarachnoid aspect of dural whole-mounts, on the surface of the cortex (pia/arachnoid) and on the surface of the choroid plexus. Occupation of these sites would allow DCs access to cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and therefore allow antigens into the subarachnoid space and ventricles. By contrast, macrophages were less evident at sites exposed to CSF and were more frequently located within the connective tissue of the dura/arachnoid and choroid plexus stroma and also in a sub-pial location. The present data suggest that DC may be strategically located within the CNS to sample CSF-borne antigens. Furthermore, the data suggest that CNS tissue samples collected without careful removal of the meninges may inadvertantly be contaminated by DCs and meningeal macrophages.