Curcumin is a molecule found in turmeric root that has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-tumor properties and has been widely used as both an herbal drug and a food additive to treat or prevent neurodegenerative diseases. To explore whether curcumin is able to ameliorate HIV-1-associated neurotoxicity, we treated a murine microglial cell line (N9) and primary rat cortical neurons with curcumin in the presence or absence of neurotoxic HIV-1 gp120 (V3 loop) protein. We found that HIV-1 gp120 profoundly induced N9 cells to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1). HIV-1 gp120 also induced apoptosis of primary rat cortical neurons. Curcumin exerted a powerful inhibitory effect against HIV-1 gp120-induced neuronal damage, reducing the production of ROS, TNF-α and MCP-1 by N9 cells and inhibiting apoptosis of primary rat cortical neurons. Curcumin may exert its biological activities through inhibition of the delayed rectification and transient outward potassium (K(+)) current, as curcumin effectively reduced HIV-1 gp120-mediated elevation of the delayed rectification and transient outward K(+) channel current in neurons. We conclude that HIV-1 gp120 increases ROS, TNF-α and MCP-1 production in microglia, and induces cortical neuron apoptosis by affecting the delayed rectification and transient outward K(+) channel current. Curcumin reduces production of ROS and inflammatory mediators in HIV-1-gp120-stimulated microglia, and protects cortical neurons against HIV-1-mediated apoptosis, most likely through inhibition of HIV-1 gp120-induced elevation of the delayed rectification and transient outward K(+) current.