The acute inflammatory response following traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been shown to play an important role in the development of secondary tissue damage. The proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha), are induced early after brain injury and have been implicated in the delayed damage. The IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) has been shown to modulate the proinflammatory cytokine cascade by blocking the binding of IL-1 to its signaling receptor. In this study, we investigated the effect of transgenic overexpression of IL-1ra on the cytokine expression and neurological damage in a closed head injury (CHI) model of TBI. The neurological recovery, as analyzed by neurological severity score (NSS), was significantly higher in transgenic mice overexpressing the human secreted form of IL-1ra in astrocytes, directed by the murine glial fibrillary acidic protein promoter, as compared to wild-type mice. Analysis of tissue levels of cytokines by ELISA showed increased levels of TNFalpha in the cerebral cortex from the wild type mice 1 h after injury. After 4 h significant increases in the levels of IL-1beta and IL-6 were observed in the wild type mice. In the transgenic mice, on the other hand, no effect on TNFalpha levels was observed and no significant increases in IL-1beta and IL-6 levels could be detected until 6 h after injury. Thus, it can be concluded that blockage of IL-1 signaling by elevated levels of IL-1ra has a neuroprotective effect, in agreement with previous reports, and that central overexpression of IL-1ra results in delayed proinflammatory cytokine induction and improved neurological recovery after traumatic brain injury.