Murine experimental meningitis models induced by either Escherichia coli LPS, live Streptococcus pneumoniae, or Listeria monocytogenes were used to study the origin and potential function of soluble CD14 (sCD14) in the brain during bacterial meningitis. Whereas intracerebral infection caused only a minor and/or transient increase of sCD14 levels in the serum, dramatically elevated concentrations of sCD14 were detected in the cerebrospinal fluid. Reverse-transcriptase PCR and FACS analysis of the leukocytes invading the subarachnoid compartment revealed an active amplification of CD14 transcription and concomitant surface expression. These findings were confirmed by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical analysis. In contrast, parenchymal astrocytes and microglial cells were shown not to significantly contribute to the elevated levels of sCD14. Simultaneous intracerebral inoculation of rsCD14 and S. pneumoniae resulted in a markedly increased local cytokine response. Taken together, these data provide the first evidence that sCD14 can act as an inflammatory co-ligand in vivo. Thus, during bacterial meningitis, sCD14 is massively released by intrathecal leukocytes, and the sCD14 found in the cerebrospinal fluid can play an important role in the pathogenesis of this disease.