In the present study, we assessed morphological changes and cytokine production after in vitro interaction with causative agents of American cutaneous leishmaniasis and compared the microglia and macrophage immune responses. Cultures of microglia and macrophages infected with stationary-phase promastigotes of Leishmania (Viannia) shawi, Leishmania (Viannia) braziliensis or Leishmania (Leishmania) amazonensis were evaluated 24, 48 and 72 h after interaction. Macrophages only presented the classical phagocytic process while microglia also displayed large cytoplasmic projections similar to the ruffles described in macropinocytosis. In the macrophage cultures, the percentage of infected cells increased over time, in a fashion that was dependent on the parasite species. In contrast, in microglial cells as the culture time progressed, there was a significant reduction in the percentage of infected cells independent of parasite species. Measurements of cytokines in macrophage cultures 48 h after interactions revealed distinct expression patterns for different parasites, whereas in microglial cultures they were similar for all Leishmania tested species. Taken together, our results suggest that microglia may have a higher phagocytic ability and cytotoxic potential than macrophages for all investigated species. The robust response of microglia against all parasite species may suggest microglia have an important role in the defence against cerebral leishmaniasis.