A growing number of studies point to rapamycin as a pharmacological compound that is able to provide neuroprotection in several experimental models of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and spinocerebellar ataxia type 3. In addition, rapamycin exerts strong anti-ageing effects in several species, including mammals. By inhibiting the activity of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), rapamycin influences a variety of essential cellular processes, such as cell growth and proliferation, protein synthesis and autophagy. Here, we review the molecular mechanisms underlying the neuroprotective effects of rapamycin and discuss the therapeutic potential of this compound for neurodegenerative diseases. © 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.