ATP-driven efflux transport proteins at the blood-brain barrier protect the healthy brain but impede pharmacotherapy of the disordered CNS. To investigate the question how ATP-binding cassette (ABC)-transporters are regulated during inflammation or infection we analysed the effects of the cytokines tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) on the expression of brain multidrug resistance proteins in primary cultures of porcine brain capillary endothelial cells. We found that TNF-alpha and IL-1beta rapidly decrease Abcg2 (BMDP/BCRP) mRNA expression within 6 h. After 24 and 48 h the mRNA level came back to control values. The mRNA reduction at 6 h was counter-regulated by the anti-inflammatory glucocorticoid hydrocortisone. Abcg2 protein levels were suppressed at prolonged stimulations but not after 6 h of stimulation which correlates with Abcg2 specific substrate uptake measurements. Abcb1 (p-glycoprotein) protein expression was transiently increased after TNF-alpha addition within 6 h of incubation followed by a reduction after 24 and 48 h whereas the Abcb1 mRNA levels were not changed. IL-1beta caused a continuous decrease in protein expression of both ABC-transporters. Long-term treatment with an assumed TNF-alpha-downstream agent, the vasoconstrictor endothelin-1, induced Abcg2 protein expression but suppressed Abcb1. Other efflux pumps like multidrug resistance-associated proteins/Abcc were rarely affected. The present results imply a complex regulation of the two most abundant ABC-transporters at the blood-brain barrier during early inflammation stages suggesting that Abcb1 (p-glycoprotein) is an early target of TNF-alpha-signalling counterbalanced by Abcg2.