Microglial and inflammatory responses to acute damage in aging are still poorly understood, although the aged brain responds differently to injury, showing poor lesion outcome. In this study, excitotoxicity was induced by intrastriatal injection of N-methyl-D-aspartate in adult (3-4 months) and aged (22-24 months) rats. Cryostat brain sections were processed for the analysis of microglial response by lectin histochemistry and cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression by immunohistochemistry and confocal analysis. Aged injured animals showed more widespread area of microglial response at 12 hr postlesion (hpl) and greater microglia/macrophage density at 3 days postlesion (dpl). However, aged reactive microglia showed prevalence of ramified morphologies and fewer amoeboid/round forms. Aged injured animals presented a diminished area of COX2 expression, but a significantly larger density of COX2+ cells, with higher numbers of COX2+ neurons during the first 24 hpl and COX2+ microglia/macrophages later. In contrast, the amount of COX2+ neutrophils was diminished in the aged. iNOS was more rapidly induced in the aged injured striatum, with higher cell density at 12 hpl, when expression was mainly neuronal. From 1 dpl, both the iNOS+ area and the density of iNOS+ cells were reduced in the aged, with lower numbers of iNOS+ neurons, microglia/macrophages, neutrophils, and astrocytes. In conclusion, excitotoxic damage in aging induces a distinct pattern of microglia/macrophage response and expression of inflammatory enzymes, which may account for the changes in lesion outcome in the aged, and highlight the importance of using aged animals for the study of acute age-related insults. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.