The origin of beta-amyloid deposited in senile plaques in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is not known. We compared the expression of protein precursor of beta-amyloid (APP) in the cell types involved in plaque formation. The levels of APP mRNA were determined in primary rat neurons and glial cells in culture, human endothelial cells and in a murine brain-derived endothelial cell line. Northern blot analysis was performed using an APP cDNA probe to detect the general APP sequence and an oligonucleotide (40 mer) complementary to the sequence of the Kunitz protease inhibitor (APP-KPI). The APP mRNA transcripts were abundant in all three cell types. The highest level of APP, normalized to beta-actin mRNA content, was expressed in neurons, followed by glial cells, where the APP expression was similar (94%) while in endothelial cells was lower (53%). The proportion between APP-KPI mRNA and total APP mRNA was high in endothelial, intermediate in glial and low in neuronal cells. We compared the effects of exposure to interleukin-1 (IL-1), a cytokine involved in several biological processes and elevated in AD, on APP mRNA expression in neuronal, glial and endothelial cells. In human endothelial and in brain-derived murine endothelial cells we observed a similar increase (50%) of total APP mRNA or APP-KPI mRNA after treatment with human recombinant IL-1 beta. In neuronal cells, IL-1 (200 ng/ml) substantially increased APP mRNA (175%), detected with both probes. In glial cells, the expression of APP mRNA did not appear to be altered by IL-1 (50-400 ng/ml). The results suggest a role of IL-1 in the neuronal mechanisms related to beta-amyloid protein deposition in AD.