The bisphosphonate clodronate, clinically used in the treatment of osteoporosis, is known to deplete cells of the monocytic lineage. Using an in vitro model of excitotoxic damage in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures (OHSC), we investigated whether clodronate can also prevent microglial activation that occurs in CNS pathologies. Lesioning of OHSC was performed by application of 50 microM N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) for 4 h after 6 days in vitro (div). Treatment of lesioned OHSC with clodronate (1000, 100, or 10 microg/ml) resulted in an almost complete abrogation of the microglial reaction after 3 further div: Confocal laser scanning microscopy showed that the number of Griffonia simplicifolia isolectin B(4)-labeled (IB4+) microglial cells in the dentate gyrus (DG) was reduced to 4.25% compared with OHSC treated with NMDA alone. Continuous treatment with clodronate (100 or 10 microg/ml) of lesioned OHSC for 9 days resulted in a further reduction in the number of microglial cells (reduction to 2.72%). The number of degenerating, propidium iodide-labeled (PI(+)) neurons in lesioned OHSC that received clodronate treatment between 6 and 9 div was not significantly different from OHSC treated with NMDA alone. However, the number of PI(+) neurons in lesioned OHSC that received continuous clodronate treatment for 9 div was significantly higher when compared to NMDA-lesioned OHSC. In summary, clodronate is able to reduce microglial activation induced by excitotoxic neuronal injury. Our results demonstrate that clodronate is a useful tool in the investigation of neuron-glia interactions because it induces an efficient depletion of microglial cells that are activated after excitotoxic CNS injury.