The role of inflammatory cytokines in the pathogenesis of neurological diseases is not well understood. The neurotoxic effects of cytokines could be mediated by immunostimulation of glial cells to produce toxic concentrations of nitric oxide (NO) and reactive nitrogen oxides. Cultured microglia and meningeal fibroblasts, but not Type 1 astrocytes, were induced by lipopolysaccharides and cytokines to synthesize NO and reactive nitrogen oxides from L-arginine. In co-cultures of immunostimulated microglia and cerebellar granule neurons, neurotoxicity was blocked by an inhibitor of NO synthase, NG-nitroarginine, and by oxyhemoglobin, which inactivates NO. Microglial-induced neurotoxicity was also partially attenuated by the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists, MK-801 and 2-amino-5-phosphovalerate (APV). Superoxide dismutase, which stabilizes NO through inactivation of superoxide anion, augmented microglial-mediated neurotoxicity either alone or in combination with MK-801 or APV. Hence, immunostimulated microglia mediate neurotoxicity by NO, reactive nitrogen oxides, superoxide anion and NMDA-like substances. These findings suggest a novel role for microglial-produced NO and reactive nitrogen oxides as a neurotoxic agent in neurodegenerative disease states.