Phosphotyrosine and protein tyrosine phosphatase antibodies have been used to assess the distribution and potential functions of tyrosine phosphorylation systems in normal brain and cell cultures, as well as in a model of neural degeneration. Western blot and immunohistochemical analysis showed that a panel of antiphosphotyrosine antibodies recognizing different tyrosine phosphorylated substrates all selectively labeled ramified microglia in sections of brain tissue. This significantly extends our previous observation (GLIA 2:412‐419, 1989) that a single, limited, phosphotyrosine antibody served as a histological marker for microglia. The present results show that tyrosine phosphorylation of a variety of substrates is quantitatively enriched in microglia compared to other neural cell types. We also show that the protein tyrosine phosphatase, CD45, is constitutively expressed by ramified microglia in vivo and by ameboid microglia in vitro. Thus, the major enzymes constituting tyrosine phosphorylation systems are present in normal microglia. Neuronal degeneration in the trigeminal nucleus, caused by a introduction of the neurotoxic lectin, ricin, into the peripheral nerve, is accompanied by a robust upregulation of phosphotyrosine signal in ramified microglial adjacent to the nucleus and in ameboid microglia in the degenerating nucleus. The presence of phosphotyrosine in ramified microglia is consistent with a role for tyrosine phosphorylation systems in the activation of microglia and in the signaling events accompanying conversion of resting microglia to the ameboid form. © 1994 Wiley‐Liss, Inc. Copyright © 1994 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.