Chronic neurodegenerative disorders are characterized by activation of microglia in the affected neural pathways. Peroxynitrite, prostanoids, and cytokines generated by these microglia can potentiate the excitotoxicity that contributes to neuronal death and dysfunction in these disorders--both by direct effects on neurons, and by impairing the capacity of astrocytes to sequester and metabolize glutamate. This suggests a vicious cycle in which the death of neurons leads to microglial activation, which in turn potentiates neuronal damage. If this model is correct, measures which down-regulate microglial activation may have a favorable effect on the induction and progression of neurodegenerative disease, independent of the particular trigger or target involved in a given disorder. Consistent with this possibility, the antibiotic minocycline, which inhibits microglial activation, shows broad utility in rodent models of neurodegeneration. Other agents which may have potential in this regard include PPARgamma agonists, genistein, vitamin D, COX-2 inhibitors, statins (and possibly policosanol), caffeine, cannabinoids, and sesamin; some of these agents could also be expected to be directly protective to neurons threatened with excitotoxicity. To achieve optimal clinical outcomes, regimens which down-regulate microglial activation could be used in conjunction with complementary measures which address other aspects of excitotoxicity.