Microglia are resident macrophages in the CNS and have been shown to exhibit immune system responses common to other macrophages, including phagocytosis, secretion of superoxide anions, and secretion of regulatory and trophic factors such as interleukin-1. Phagocytosis and oxidative burst by macrophages are often reported to be preceded by an increase in cytosolic free calcium. In addition, a variety of compounds, including neuroactive peptides, have been shown to elicit such calcium responses in various macrophage preparations. The results presented demonstrate that cultured rat microglia respond to exposure to carbachol with an increase in intracellular free calcium which is atropine-sensitive and the result of the release of calcium from intracellular stores. Norepinephrine also induced increases in free calcium, whereas the metabotropic glutamate agonist 1S,3R-ACPD, serotonin, adenosine and ATP did not. These results suggest that microglia can respond to select neurotransmitters, and that there may exist a signaling loop between neurons and microglia. Furthermore, since cholinergic fibers have been shown to infiltrate neuritic plaques in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and microglia have been reported to be activated in plaques, these results suggest that interactions between select neurotransmitters and microglia may play a key role in neurodegenerative diseases.