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Delays in the laboratory examination of cerebrospinal fluid are commonly encountered in clinical medicine. The present studies were designed to evaluate changes in cerebrospinal fluid leukocyte counts relative to time elapsed before analysis. Neutrophil counts decreased most rapidly, being 68 +/- 10% (standard error of the mean) and 50 +/- 12% of initial values at 1 and 2 h, respectively. Lymphocyte and monocyte numbers were not significantly altered until 3 h.