There is increasing evidence that microglia serve as antigen presenters in the human CNS. Although the occurrence of MHC class II immunoreactive cells has been reported in astrocytic gliomas, the relative contribution of microglia to this cell population has not been studied in detail. Using computer-assisted image analysis, we have investigated the expression of MHC class II molecules and of the microglia/macrophage markers Ki-MIP, RCA-1, KP1 and iba1, in 97 astrocytic gliomas comprising all WHO grades to answer the question whether there is a correlation between tumour grade and the number of MHC class II positive microglia/macrophage profiles. Microglia expressing MHC class II were common in astrocytomas and anaplastic astrocytomas but rare in pilocytic tumours although there was significant variation within each group. MHC class II immunoreactivity was reduced in highly cellular areas of glioblastomas where large numbers of cells expressing macrophage markers were still present. Thus, there was no simple relationship between tumour grade and microglial/macrophage MHC class II expression. In addition, up to 55% of astrocytic gliomas contained MHC class II immunoreactive tumour cells. Microglia but not tumour cells were found to express the BB1/B7 costimulator. We conclude that microglia in astrocytic gliomas are well equipped to function as antigen presenting cells. Yet, neoplastic astroglia appear to acquire the capacity to downregulate microglial MHC class II expression and, at the same time, may induce T-cell clonal anergy through aberrant expression of MHC class II molecules.