Females are more susceptible than males to multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the underlying mechanism behind this gender difference is poorly understood. Because the presence of neuroantigen-primed T cells within the CNS is necessary for the development of MS, the present study was undertaken to investigate the activation of microglia by myelin basic protein (MBP)-primed T cells of male, female, and castrated male mice. Interestingly, MBP-primed T cells isolated from female and castrated male but not from male mice induced the expression of inducible nitric-oxide synthase (iNOS) and proinflammatory cytokines (interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta), IL-1alpha, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha) in microglia by cell-cell contact. Again there was no apparent defect in male microglia, because MBP-primed T cells isolated from female and castrated male but not male mice were capable of inducing the production of NO in male primary microglia. Inhibition of female T cell contact-mediated microglial expression of proinflammatory molecules by dominant-negative mutants of p65 and C/EBPbeta suggest that female MBP-primed T cells induce microglial expression of proinflammatory molecules through the activation of NF-kappaB and C/EBPbeta. Interestingly, MBP-primed T cells of male, female, and castrated male mice were able to induce microglial activation of NF-kappaB. However, MBP-primed T cells of female and castrated male but not male mice induced microglial activation of C/EBPbeta. These studies suggest that microglial activation of C/EBPbeta but not NF-kappaB by T cell:microglial contact is a gender-specific event and that male MBP-primed T cells are not capable of inducing microglial expression of proinflammatory molecules due to their inability to induce the activation of C/EBPbeta in microglia. This novel gender-sensitive activation of microglia by neuroantigen-primed T cell contact could be one of the mechanisms behind the female-loving nature of MS.