The intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) expressed by endothelial cells is crucial in promoting adhesion and transmigration of circulating leukocytes across the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Migrated immunocompetent cells, in turn, release mediators that stimulate glial and endothelial cells to express ICAM-1 and release cytokines, possibly sustaining cerebral damage. Following activation, proteolytic cleavage of membrane-anchored ICAM-1 results in measurable levels of a soluble form, sICAM-1. The aims of this study were to investigate the changes of sICAM-1 levels in ventricular CSF and serum and to elucidate the influence of structural brain damage as estimated by computerized tomography (CT) as well as the extent of BBB dysfunction as calculated by the CSF/serum albumin ratio (QA) in patients with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). All investigated parameters revealed two subgroups. Patients belonging to group A had sICAM-1 levels in CSF above normal range, presented marked cerebral damage and a disturbance of the BBB (range 0.6-24.7 ng/ml, n = 8). In contrast, patients belonging to group B had no elevation of sICAM-1 values in CSF (range 0.3-3.9 ng/ml, n = 5; p < 0.017) and showed minor cerebral damage with an intact BBB in most cases. In addition, overall analysis showed that sICAM-1 in CSF correlated with the extent of BBB damage as indicated by the QA (r = 0.76; p < 0.001). These results suggest that increased sICAM-1 levels in CSF might depict ongoing immunologic activation and that sICAM-1 correlates with the extent of tissue and BBB damage. The origin of soluble ICAM-1 in CSF and its pathophysiologic role after TBI remains to be clarified.