The pleiotropic cytokines interleukin (IL)-1beta and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha have been implicated in the pathophysiology of asthma. To elucidate the role of these cytokines in the pro-asthmatic state, the effects of IL-1beta and TNF-alpha on airway smooth muscle (ASM) responsiveness and ASM expression of multiple genes, assessed by high-density oligonucleotide array analysis, were examined in the absence and presence of the glucocorticoid dexamethasone (DEX). Administration of IL-1beta/TNF-alpha increased ASM contractility to acetylcholine and impaired ASM relaxation to isoproterenol. These pro-asthmatic- like changes in ASM responsiveness were associated with IL-1beta/ TNF-alpha-induced mRNA expression of a host of proinflammatory genes that regulate transcription, cytokines and chemokines, cellular adhesion molecules, and various signal transduction molecules that regulate ASM responsiveness. In the presence of DEX, the changes induced in ASM responsiveness were abrogated, and most of the IL-1beta/TNF-alpha-mediated changes in proinflammatory gene expression were repressed, although mRNA expression of a small number of genes was enhanced by DEX. Collectively, the observations support the concept that, together with its role as a regulator of airway tone, in response to IL-1beta/TNF-alpha, the ASM expresses a host of glucocorticoid-sensitive genes that contribute to the altered structure and function of the airways in the pro-asthmatic state. We speculate that glucocorticoid-sensitive, cytokine-induced pathways involved in ASM cell signaling represent important targets for new therapeutic interventions.