Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of progressive intellectual failure. The lesions that develop, called senile plaques, are extracellular deposits principally composed of insoluble aggregates of beta-amyloid protein (A beta), infiltrated by reactive microglia and astrocytes. Although A beta, and a portion of it, the fragment 25-35 (A beta (25-35)), have been shown to exert a direct toxic effect on neurons, the role of microglia in such neuronal injury remains unclear. Here we report a synergistic effect between A beta and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) in triggering the production of reactive nitrogen intermediates and tumour-necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) from microglia. Furthermore, using co-culture experiments, we show that activation of microglia with IFN-gamma and A beta leads to neuronal cell injury in vitro. These findings suggest that A beta and IFN-gamma activate microglia to produce reactive nitrogen intermediates and TNF-alpha, and this may have a role in the pathogenesis of neuronal degeneration observed in ageing and Alzheimer's disease.