Cytokines have been implicated in the pathogenesis of gram-negative bacterial meningitis. The effects of pentoxifylline and dexamethasone on the release of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin (IL)-1, and IL-6 from primary murine microglial cell cultures were explored using bioassays. When added concomitantly with lipopolysaccharide, pentoxifylline blocked the release of TNF and IL-1 but not IL-6, while dexamethasone inhibited the release of TNF and IL-6. After a 2-h exposure of microglia to lipopolysaccharide, pentoxifylline but not dexamethasone still inhibited the release of TNF. Release of TNF was enhanced 20-fold by priming of the microglia with interferon-gamma; only pentoxifylline blocked the priming effect of interferon-gamma on TNF release. These results demonstrate that pentoxifylline and dexamethasone differentially regulate the release of cytokines in microglial cell cultures and provide potential insight into their role in the treatment of gram-negative bacterial meningitis.