The meninges are often considered inert tissues that house the CSF and provide protection for the brain and spinal cord. Yet emerging data demonstrates that they are also active sites of immune responses. Furthermore, the blood-CSF barrier surrounding meningeal blood vessels, together with the blood-brain barrier (BBB), is postulated to serve as a gateway for the pathological infiltration of immune cells into the CNS in multiple sclerosis (MS). Our previous studies using mast cell-deficient (Kit(W/Wv)) mice demonstrated that mast cells resident in the dura mater and pia mater exacerbate experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a rodent model of MS, by facilitating CNS inflammatory cell influx. Here we examined the underlying mechanisms that mediate these effects. We demonstrate that there are dramatic alterations in immune associated gene expression in the meninges in pre-clinical disease, including those associated with mast cell and neutrophil function. Meningeal mast cells are activated within 24 h of disease induction, but do not directly compromise CNS vascular integrity. Rather, through production of TNF, mast cells elicit an early influx of neutrophils, cells known to alter vascular permeability, into the meninges. These data add to the growing evidence that inflammation in the meninges precedes CNS immune cell infiltration and establish that mast cells are among the earliest participants in these disease-initiating events. We hypothesize that mast cell-dependent neutrophil recruitment and activation in the meninges promotes early breakdown of the local BBB and CSF-blood barrier allowing initial immune cell access to the CNS.