The purpose of this study was to investigate histopathological changes and the role of the microglia/macrophage cell system in the therapeutic effect of iodine-125 (125I) interstitial brachytherapy on cerebral gliomas. Out of a series of 60 cases harboring cerebral astrocytomas and other brain tumors treated with 125I interstitial brachytherapy, autopsy material was available in 10 cases between 0.75 and 60 months after irradiation. The patients were treated with 60-Gy maximum doses at the tumor periphery. Besides the routine HE and Mallory's PTAH trichrome staining, immunohistochemical reactions were carried out for CD15, CD31, CD34, CD45, CD68 (PG-M1), CPM, HAM 56 and HLA-DR antigens to study immunological characteristics of the reactive cell population around gliomas after 125I treatment. The present immunohistochemical study demonstrated that the early lesions following 125I interstitial brachytherapy of gliomas are characterized by migrating macrophages apparently concerned with the removal of necrotic debris. The established phase of reactive zone around the necrotic center disclosed a narrow inner rim of microglial accumulation, and a broad outer area consisting of astrocytic gliosis, vascular proliferation, activated microglia and infiltration by macrophages. In the burned-out phase, the necrosis undergoes liquefaction, the microglial rim is replaced by end-stage macrophages, and the reactive zone is transformed into astrocytic gliosis, which can be considered as equivalent to scar tissue formed around necrosis outside of the central nervous system.