An inflammatory response in the CNS mediated by activation of microglia is a key event in the early stages of the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Using mouse cortical mixed glia cultures, we have previously demonstrated that the bacterial endotoxin lipopolysaccharide induces the activation of microglia and the production of proinflammatory factors. Naloxone, an opioid receptor antagonist, inhibits the lipopolysaccharide-induced activation of microglia and the production of proinflammatory factors. Using neuron-glia co-cultures, we extended our study to determine if naloxone has a neuroprotective effect against lipopolysaccharide-induced neuronal damage and analysed the underlying mechanism of action for its potential neuroprotective effect. Pretreatment of cultures with naloxone (1 microM) followed by treatment with lipopolysaccharide significantly inhibited the lipopolysaccharide-induced production of nitric oxide and the release of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and significantly reduced the lipopolysaccharide-induced damage to neurons. More importantly, both naloxone and its opioid-receptor ineffective enantiomer (+)-naloxone were equally effective in inhibiting the lipopolysaccharide-induced generation of proinflammatory factors and the activation of microglia, as well as in the protection of neurons. These results indicate that the neuroprotective effect of naloxone is mediated by its inhibition of microglial activity and may be unrelated to its binding to the classical opioid receptors.