Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive dementing neurologic illness, and the most frequent cause of dementia in the elderly. Neuritic plaques are one of the main neuropathological findings in AD, and the major protein component is the β-amyloid protein (Aβ). Another striking feature of neuritic plaques is the presence of activated microglia, cytokines, and complement components, suggestive of "inflammatory foci" within AD brain. In this review, we will examine the mechanisms by which microglia become activated in AD, emphasizing the role in the Aβ protein and proinflammatory cytokines. As well, pathways for suppression of microglial activation by immunosuppressive cytokines will be described. Inflammation mediated by activated microglia is an important component of AD pathophysiology, and strategies to control this response could provide new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of AD. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.