beta-Amyloid precursor protein (beta APP), transforming growth factor beta (TGF beta), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF alpha) are remarkably pleiotropic neural cytokines/neurotrophic factors that orchestrate intricate injury-related cellular and molecular interactions. The links between these three factors include: their responses to injury; their interactive effects on astrocytes, microglia and neurons; their ability to induce cytoprotective responses in neurons; and their association with cytopathological alterations in Alzheimer's disease. Astrocytes and microglia each produce and respond to TGF beta and TNF alpha in characteristic ways when the brain is injured. TGF beta, TNF alpha and secreted forms of beta APP (sAPP) can protect neurons against excitotoxic, metabolic and oxidative insults and may thereby serve neuroprotective roles. On the other hand, under certain conditions TNF alpha and the fibrillogenic amyloid beta-peptide (A beta) derivative of beta APP can promote damage of neuronal and glial cells, and may play roles in neurodegenerative disorders. Studies of genetically manipulated mice in which TGF beta, TNF alpha or beta APP ligand or receptor levels are altered suggest important roles for each factor in cellular responses to brain injury and indicate that mediators of neural injury responses also have the potential to enhance amyloidogenesis and/or to interfere with neuroregeneration if expressed at abnormal levels or modified by strategic point mutations. Recent studies have elucidated signal transduction pathways of TGF beta (serine/threonine kinase cascades), TNF alpha (p55 receptor linked to a sphingomyelin-ceramide-NF kappa B pathway), and secreted forms of beta APP (sAPP; receptor guanylate cyclase-cGMP-cGMP-dependent kinase-K+ channel activation). Knowledge of these signaling pathways is revealing novel molecular targets on which to focus neuroprotective therapeutic strategies in disorders ranging from stroke to Alzheimer's disease.