The central nervous system (CNS) is equipped with a variety of cell types, all of which are assigned particular roles during the development, maintenance, function and repair of neural tissue. One glial cell type, microglia, deserves particular attention, as its role in the healthy or injured CNS is incompletely understood. Evidence exists for both regenerative and degenerative functions of these glial cells during neuronal injury. This review integrates the current knowledge of the role of microglia in an adult-onset neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and pays particular attention to the possible mechanisms of initiation and propagation of neuronal damage during disease onset and progression. Microglial cell properties, behavior and detected inflammatory reactions during the course of the disease are described. The neuroinflammatory changes that occur in a mouse model of ALS are summarized. The understanding of microglial function in the healthy and injured CNS could offer better diagnostic as well as therapeutic approaches for prevention, retardation, or repair of neural tissue degeneration. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.