The cytokine, interleukin (IL)-15, and the T cell growth factor, IL-2, exhibit a similar spectrum of immune effects and share the IL-2 receptor (IL-2R) subunits IL-2Rbeta and IL-2Rgamma for signaling in hematopoietic cells. Numerous neuroregulatory activities of IL-2 have been suggested, but its expression in the normal central nervous system (CNS) is apparently very low and regionally restricted. We show by RNA and protein detection that IL-15, its specific receptor molecule, IL-15Ralpha, and the signal-transducing receptor subunits, IL-2Rbeta and IL-2Rgamma, are constitutively present in various regions of the developing and adult mouse brain. We further demonstrate, also at the single-cell level, that IL-15 and the components for IL-15Ralpha/IL-2Rbetagamma receptors are expressed by microglia. Tyrosine phosphorylation data are presented showing that IL-15 signaling in microglia involves Janus kinase 1 activity. At doses of 0.1-10 ng/ml, IL-15 affected functional properties of these cells, such as the production of nitric oxide, and supported their growth in culture, suggestive of a role as an autocrine growth factor. Microglial IL-15 could thus play a pivotal role in the CNS and may participate in certain CNS and neuroendocrine functions previously ascribed to IL-2.