The diversity in the local manifestation of inflammatory vascular lesions might be partially attributable to heterogenous cell adhesion molecule (CAM) expression among endothelial cells (EC) derived from different anatomical locations. We compared basal and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha, 0-100 ng/ml, 0-48 h)-induced intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) expression in cultured human aortic EC (HAEC), vena cava EC (HVCEC), dermal microvascular EC (HMVEC), and vena cava smooth muscle cells (HVCSM), using a fluorescent ELISA and the competitive quantitative RT-PCR. We found marked differences in basal ICAM-1 expression, both at the protein and mRNA levels, such that HAEC>HVCEC approximately equal to HMVEC>>HVCSM. Basal VCAM-1 mRNA levels were significantly lower in HVCEC than in HAEC and HVCSM, while protein levels were indistinguishable. TNFalpha-induced ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 levels in all EC were similar and significantly higher than in HVCSM (2.5- and 5-fold, respectively). Dissimilar levels of basal and TNFalpha-induced CAM expression in vascular cells may explain the varied predisposition of different blood vessels to developing certain vasculopathies.