Microglia, the resident macrophage of the brain, can release substances that aid neuronal development, differentiation and survival. We have investigated the effects of non-activated microglia on the survival of cultured rat cerebellar granule neurones. Microglial-conditioned medium, collected from primary rat microglial cultures, was used to treat 7-day-in-vitro neurones, and neuronal viability and proliferation was assessed following a further 1 or 7 days in culture. Microglial-conditioned medium enhanced neuronal survival by up to 50% compared with untreated neurones and this effect was completely abated by pretreatment of the microglia with l-leucine methyl ester. The expression of the proliferation marker Ki-67 increased in neuronal cultures treated with microglial-conditioned medium suggesting enhanced proliferation of precursor neurones. Microglial-induced neuronal proliferation could be attenuated by specific inhibition of mitogen-activated protein kinase or phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase/Akt signalling pathways, and by selective fractionation and immunodepletion of the microglial-conditioned medium. Activation of the Notch pathway was enhanced as antibody against the Notch ligand, delta-1, prevented the microglial-induced neuronal proliferation. These results show that microglia release stable neurotrophic factors that can promote neuronal precursor cell proliferation.