Signaling by the protease thrombin has started to be appreciated in cell biology, especially since the gene for protease-activated receptor-1 (PAR-1) has been cloned. Apart from the central role of thrombin in blood coagulation and wound healing, thrombin also regulates cellular functions in a large variety of cells through PAR-1, PAR-3 and PAR-4. Receptors are activated by a proteolytic cleavage mechanism via G protein-coupled signaling pathways. Accumulating evidence shows that thrombin changes the morphology of neurons and astrocytes, induces glial cell proliferation, and even exerts, depending on the concentration applied, either cytoprotective or cytotoxic effects on neural cells. These effects may be mediated, through either distinct or overlapping signal transduction cascades, by activation of PARs. This review focuses on the underlying signaling events initiated by thrombin in neuronal and glial cells, to summarize our understanding of the intracellular signaling machinery linking thrombin receptors to their potential physiological and pathological functions in the CNS.