Among the changes which occur in the brain with age is an increase in hippocampal concentration of proinflammatory cytokines like interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) and an increase in IL-1beta-induced signaling. Here we demonstrate that the increase in IL-1beta concentration is accompanied by an increase in expression of IL-1 type I receptor (IL-1RI) and an age-related increase in microglial activation, as shown by increased expression of the cell surface marker, major histocompatibility complex II (MHCII) and increased MHCII staining. The evidence indicates that these age-related changes were abrogated in hippocampus of aged rats treated with dexamethasone and vitamin D3. Similarly, the age-related increases in activation of the stress-activated protein kinase, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), as well as caspase-3 and PARP were all attenuated in hippocampal tissue prepared from rats that received dexamethasone and vitamin D3. The data indicate that dexamethasone and vitamin D3 ameliorated the age-related increase in IFNgamma and suggest that IFNgamma may be the trigger leading to microglial activation, since it increases MHCII mRNA and IL-1beta release from cultured glia. In parallel with its ability to decrease microglial activation in vivo, we report that treatment of cultured glia with dexamethasone and vitamin D3 blocked the lipopolysaccharide increased MHCII mRNA and IL-1beta concentration, while the IL-1beta-induced increases in activation of JNK and caspase 3 in cultured neurons were also reversed by treatment with dexamethasone and vitamin D3. The data suggest that the antiinflammatory effect of dexamethasone and vitamin D3 derives from their ability to downreguate microglial activation.