Glutamate is the principal excitatory neurotransmitter in the CNS, but it is also a potent neurotoxin that can kill nerve cells. Glutamate damages oligodendrocytes, like neurons, by excitotoxicity which is caused by sustained activation of AMPA, kainate and NMDA receptors. Glutamate excitotoxicity depends entirely on Ca2+ overload of the cytoplasm and can be initiated by disruption of glutamate homeostasis. Thus, inhibition of glutamate uptake in isolated oligodendrocytes in vitro and in the optic nerve in vivo, is sufficient to trigger cell death which is prevented by glutamate receptor antagonists. In turn, activated, but not resting microglia, can compromise glutamate homeostasis and induce oligodendrocyte excitotoxicity, which is attenuated either by AMPA/kainate antagonists or by the blockade of the system xc_ antiporter present in microglia. By contrast, non-lethal, brief, activation of glutamate receptors in oligodendrocytes rapidly sensitizes these cells to complement attack. Intriguingly, these effects are exclusively mediated by kainate receptors which induce Ca2+ overload of the cytosol and the generation of reactive oxygen species. In conjunction, these observations reveal novel mechanisms by which neuroinflammation alters glutamate homeostasis and triggers oligodendrocyte death. Conversely, they also show how glutamate signaling in oligodendrocytes might induce immune attack. In both instances direct activation of glutamate receptors present in oligodendrocytes plays a pivotal role in either initiating or executing death signals, which might be relevant to the pathogenesis of white matter disorders.