Airway epithelium may actively participate in inflammatory responses, such as occur in asthma. The presence and regulation of surface molecules on the airway epithelium, however, is incompletely understood. We have determined the phenotype of the human bronchial epithelial cell line BEAS-2B by flow cytometry. We confirmed previous observations that human bronchial epithelial cells constitutively express CD29, CD44, CD49a, CD49b, CD49c, CD49d, CD49e, CD49f, CD51, CD54 (ICAM-1), CD61, and HLA class I. BEAS-2B cells were also found to constitutively express CD9, CD13, CD15, CD15s, CD23, CD33, CD36, CD40, CD41b, CD42b, CD48, CD50, CD71, and CD102 (ICAM-2). Culture of BEAS-2B cells with tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α or interleukin (IL)-1α (1 ng/ml) was found to enhance intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) expression (severalfold) and induce de novo CD106 [vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1)] expression. TNF-α or IL-1β did not change the expression of CD9, CD13, CD16, CD23, CD29, CD31, CD32, CD35, CD45, CD61, or CD64 in BEAS-2B cells. IL-4 (1 ng/ml) also induced expression of VCAM-1 (1.5-fold) but not ICAM-1 expression while interferon-gamma (1 ng/ml) enhanced only ICAM-1 expression (2-fold). Maximal VCAM-1 expression was obtained with the combination of TNF-α and IL-4 (8-fold). Using Northern blot hybridization analysis, ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 mRNA was detected in BEAS-2B cells stimulated with cytokines. VCAM-1 on stimulated BEAS-2B was functionally active as determined by adhesion of purified eosinophils and blockade with specific antibodies. Primary isolates of bronchial epithelial cells produced detectable levels of VCAM-1 protein and mRNA as detected by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, respectively. These results suggest that cytokine activation induces expression of ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 on airway epithelium, an event which may influence leukocyte infiltration and activation.