The mammalian brain is composed of four distinct fluid compartments: blood, cerebral spinal fluid, interstitial fluid surrounding glial cells and neurons, and intracellular fluid. Maintenance of the ionic and osmotic composition and volume of these fluids is crucial for the normal functioning of the brain. Small changes in intracellular or extracellular solute composition can dramatically alter neuronal signaling and information processing. Because of the rigid confines of the skull and complex brain architecture, changes in total brain volume can cause devastating neurological damage. As a result, it is not surprising to find that the composition and volume of brain intracellular and extracellular fluids are controlled tightly under both normal conditions and in various disease states. Osmotic and ionic balance in the central nervous system is regulated by solute and water transport across the blood-brain barrier, the choroid plexus, and the plasma membrane of glial cells and neurons. Despite its clinical and physiological significance, however, little is known about the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms by which the central nervous system's osmotic and ionic balance is maintained. In this review, the current understanding of osmoregulation in the mammalian brain and its role in various disease processes such as hyponatremia, renal failure, and hypernatremia will be summarized. A detailed understanding of brain osmoregulatory processes represents a fundamental physiological problem and is required for the treatment of numerous disease states, particularly those encountered in the practice of nephrology.