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Biochemical measurements in "special fluids" are complicated with the problem of reference intervals. Reference intervals are difficult to establish for these types of samples since they are usually only collected in patients with clinical suspicion of disease. Determination of neurotransmitter metabolites in cerebrospinal fluid illustrates this difficulty. This paper will review the factors and circumstances that have been identified or are suspected to modify the concentration of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) and homovanillic acid (HVA) in cerebrospinal fluid. In addition to obvious parameters such as age-related variation that can affect the concentration of 5-HIAA and HVA in cerebrospinal fluid, a variety of other factors can explain the wide range of "control" group sizes reported in the literature. Reference intervals must take into account the purpose of cerebrospinal fluid examinations, whether they be prospective studies to explore physio-pathologic relationships or for diagnostic purposes. In the latter case, certain neurological disorders cannot be excluded if a single measured value is within the reference interval.