Microglial cells are believed to play an active role in brain inflammatory, immune and degenerative processes. Depending on the magnitude of microglial reaction, on the type of stimulus and on the concurrence of other local factors, microglia can contribute to host defence and repair, or to the establishment and maintenance of brain damage. Many of the effects of microglial cells can be ascribed to the numerous substances that these cells can synthesize and release in response to a variety of stimuli (cytokines, pro-inflammatory substances, neurotransmitters, toxins, etc.). The present article deals with two classes of compounds that activated microglial cells can produce in large amounts: prostanoids (that derive from arachidonic acid through the cyclooxygenase pathway), and nitric oxide (that is synthesized from arginine by nitric oxide synthase). Prostanoids and nitric oxide have a number of common targets, on which they may exert similar or opposite actions, and have a crucial role in the regulation of inflammation, immune responses and cell viability. Their synthesis can massively increase when the inducible isoforms of cyclooxygenase and nitric oxide synthase are expressed. The metabolic pathways of prostanoids and nitric oxide are finely tuned by the respective end-products, by cyclic AMP and by a number of exogenous factors, such as cytokines, glucocorticoids, lipocortin-1 and others. Some of these factors (e.g. transforming growth factor-beta 1, interleukin-10, lipocortin-1) may be secreted by microglial cells themselves, and act in an autocrine-paracrine way. In view of the neuroprotective role attributed to some prostaglandins and to the cytotoxicity of excessive levels of nitric oxide or its derivatives, the balance between prostanoid and nitric oxide levels may be crucial for orienting microglial reactions towards neuroprotection or neurotoxicity.