©The Authors Journal compilation ©2014 Biochemical Society. Exclusively neuron-centric approaches to neuropathological mechanisms have not resulted in major new breakthroughs in the prevention and therapy of neurodegenerative diseases. In the present paper,we review the role of glia in neurodegeneration in an attempt to identify novel targets that could be used to develop much-needed strategies for the containment and cure of neurodegenerative disorders. We discuss this in the context of glial roles in the homoeostasis and defence of the brain. We consider the mounting evidence supporting a change away from the perception of reactive glial responses merely as secondary detrimental processes that exacerbate the course of neurological disorders, in favour of an emerging contemporary view of glial pathological responses as complex and multistaged defensive processes that also have the potential for dysfunction.