Common symptoms of different neurodegenerative diseases start to develop in the second half of the human life. Several of these diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, are accompanied by severe disturbances of protein metabolism and homeostasis in the brain. Because microglial cells are, to some extent, responsible for the maintenance of this homeostasis, age-related functional changes of the microglia are important. We established, therefore, the preparation of cultures of primary microglial cells isolated from adult animals in comparison to the widely used standard model, primary microglial cells isolated from newborn animals. In addition, we investigated changes in the activation and in the protein homeostasis within these cells. The protein turnover seems to be significantly impaired in microglial cells isolated from adult animals and this seems to be accompanied by a decline in proteasomal function, but not in the protease content. We were also able to demonstrate higher cell surface molecule expression and a higher basal NO release of microglia isolated from adult animals in comparison to the microglia isolated from newborn rats; however, the PMA stimulated oxidative burst was abolished completely in cells from adult animals. Microglia from adult animals were also not able to upregulate their protein metabolism after activation. From these investigations it was concluded that microglial cells from adult animals have significantly different metabolic properties in comparison to the widely used microglial cells from newborn animals. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.