We analysed the inducibility of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules of astrocytes and microglia in organotypic hippocampus slice cultures of Lewis rats. Treatment with interferon-γ (IFN-γ) resulted in the induction of MHC class II molecules on microglia preferentially in the injured marginal zones of the slice culture, but only sporadically in areas containing intact neuronal architecture. In astrocytes, inducibility of MHC class II molecules was even more strictly controlled. IFN-γ treatment induced MHC class II expression only in the slice culture zones containing degenerated neurons, and not in the presence of functional neurons. After suppression of spontaneous neuronal activity of the slice culture by the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin, MHC class II molecules on astrocytes could be induced by IFN-γ in areas with intact neuronal architecture, and microglia cells exhibited a higher level of expression. These data suggest that loss of neurons could result in MHC class II inducibility of glial cells, and thus in increased immune reactivity of nervous tissue.