A major concern regarding the chronic administration of antiretroviral drugs is the potential for induction of drug efflux transporter expression (i.e., P-glycoprotein, P-gp) at tissue sites that can significantly affect drug distribution and treatment efficacy. Previous data have shown that the inductive effect of human immunodeficiency virus protease inhibitors (PIs) is mediated through the human orphan nuclear receptor, steroid xenobiotic receptor (SXR or hPXR). The objectives of this study were to investigate transport and inductive properties on efflux drug transporters of two PIs, atazanavir and ritonavir, at the blood-brain barrier by using a human brain microvessel endothelial cell line, hCMEC/D3. Transport properties of PIs by the drug efflux transporters P-gp and multidrug resistance protein 1 (MRP1) were assessed by measuring the cellular uptake of (3)H-atazanavir or (3)H-ritonavir in P-gp and MRP1 overexpressing cells as well as hCMEC/D3. Whereas the P-gp inhibitor, PSC833, increased atazanavir and ritonavir accumulation in hCMEC/D3 cells by 2-fold, the MRP inhibitor MK571 had no effect. P-gp, MRP1, and hPXR expression and localization were examined by Western blot analysis and immunogold cytochemistry at the electron microscope level. Treatment of hCMEC/D3 cells for 72 hr with rifampin or SR12813 (two well-established hPXR ligands) or PIs (atazanavir or ritonavir) resulted in an increase in P-gp expression by 1.8-, 6-, and 2-fold, respectively, with no effect observed for MRP1 expression. In hCMEC/D3 cells, cellular accumulation of these PIs appears to be primarily limited by P-gp efflux activity. Long-term exposure of atazanavir or ritonavir to brain microvessel endothelium may result in further limitations in brain drug permeability as a result of the up-regulation of P-gp expression and function.