Inflammation is a defense reaction against diverse insults, designed to remove noxious agents and to inhibit their detrimental effects. It consists of a dazzling array of molecular and cellular mechanisms and an intricate network of controls to keep them in check. In neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation may be triggered by the accumulation of proteins with abnormal conformations or by signals emanating from injured neurons. Given the multiple functions of many inflammatory factors, it has been difficult to pinpoint their roles in specific (patho)physiological situations. Studies of genetically modified mice and of molecular pathways in activated glia are beginning to shed light on this issue. Altered expression of different inflammatory factors can either promote or counteract neurodegenerative processes. Since many inflammatory responses are beneficial, directing and instructing the inflammatory machinery may be a better therapeutic objective than suppressing it.