Continuous beta blockade stimulates deposition of collagen in the pulmonary alveolar interstitium of adult rats. It also causes changes to the capillary endothelial cell compartment reminiscent of programmed cell death. To test whether beta blockade results in endothelial cell apoptosis, cultures of capillary endothelial cells were treated with both a wide-spectrum beta blocker and a beta-2-specific antagonist. Apoptosis was measured in these cultures using both terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick end labeling and annexin-V assays. Both forms of beta blockade stimulated programmed cell death in these cultures. To test whether the apoptotic effect of beta blockade was related to interstitial collagen deposition, capillary endothelial cells were cocultured with beta-blocked pulmonary fibroblast monolayers. Cocultured endothelial cells were substantially protected from apoptosis after beta blockade; coculture over plain tissue culture plastic or over exogenous collagen films had no effect on programmed cell death in endothelial cells. These results suggest that both pulmonary endothelial and interstitial cells are vulnerable to injury from beta blockade but that paracrine interactions between these cells may protect the peripheral lung from substantive damage.