1. Tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF alpha) increases the expression of the adhesion molecule intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) on cultured endothelial and epithelial cells and modulation of this may be important in controlling inflammation. Activation of tyrosine kinase(s) is known to be involved in the signal transduction pathways of many cytokines. In this study we have investigated the effects of the tyrosine kinase inhibitors, ST638, tyrphostin AG 1288 and genistein, on TNF alpha-induced ICAM-1 expression in human alveolar epithelial (A549) and vascular endothelial (EAhy926) cell lines and also normal human lung microvascular endothelial cells (HLMVEC). 2. ICAM-1 expression on cultured cells was determined by a sensitive enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA). Endothelial or epithelial monolayers were exposed to increasing doses of TNF-alpha (0.01-10 ng ml-1), in the presence or absence of either ST638 (3-100 microM), AG 1288 (3-100 microM) or genistein (100 microM) and ICAM-1 expression was measured at 4 and 24 h. Control experiments examined the effect of ST638 on phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA, 20 ng ml-1, 4 h)-stimulated ICAM-1 and compared it to that of a specific protein kinase C inhibitor, R031-8220 (10 microM). Also, functional consequences of changes in ICAM-1 expression were assessed by measuring adhesion of 111 In-labelled human neutrophils to EAhy926 endothelial and A549 epithelial monolayers treated with TNF alpha, in the presence or absence of ST638. 3. ST638 caused a concentration-dependent reduction in TNF alpha- (0.1-10 ng ml-1)-induced ICAM-1 on EAhy926 endothelial (at 4 h) and A549 epithelial monolayers (at 4 and 24 h). In contrast, ST638 caused a concentration-dependent increase in TNF alpha- (0.1-10 ng ml-1)-induced ICAM-1 on EAhy926 endothelial cells at 24 h. Similar effects were seen with AG 1288 or genistein. ST638 (100 microM) significantly (P < 0.01) inhibited ICAM-1 expression on HLMVEC endothelial cells induced by 0.01 ng ml-1 TNF alpha at 4 or 24 h or 0.1 ng ml-1 at 4 h, but increased ICAM-1 expression induced by 0.1 ng ml-1 TNF alpha at 24 h. ST638 did not significantly change the expression of PMA-stimulated ICAM-1 on either A549 epithelial, EAhy926 or HLMVEC endothelial cells. However, PMA-induced ICAM-1 expression was inhibited by Ro31-8220. Also, treatment of epithelial or endothelial monolayers with TNF alpha and ST638 altered adhesion of human neutrophils to A549 epithelial or EAhy926 endothelial cells in a manner that corresponded to the alteration in ICAM-1 expression. 4. These results show that tyrosine kinase inhibitors alter TNF alpha-induced ICAM-1 expression, but that the cell type, concentration of TNF alpha and time of exposure to this cytokine determine whether expression is decreased or increased by the inhibitor. An increased understanding of the signal transduction pathway(s) involved in TNF alpha-induced ICAM-1 expression on lung epithelial and vascular endothelial cells may be of potential therapeutic value in the treatment of inflammatory disease.