In acute bacterial renal infections, which are most frequently caused by Escherichia coli, tubuloepithelial cells are involved with respect to bacterial adherence, invasion and cytotoxicity. In addition, cytokines expressed by tubuloepithelial cells may be relevant for the recruitment of inflammatory cells and tissue damage in bacterial interstitial nephritis. We asked which inflammatory cytokines are produced by primary human tubuloepithelial cells following in vitro exposure to E. coli and found no release of IL-6, IL-8 and TNF-α by tubular cells challenged by bacteria. Purified virulence factors (fimbriae, lipopolysaccharide) from E. coli were also without effects on cytokine release by tubular cells. Since lymphocytic infiltration is a characteristic feature in the chronic form of interstitial nephritis, MHC class II expression by tubular cells in response to bacterial coincubation was analyzed. Exposure to both IFN-γ and E. coli enhanced MHC class II expression on tubuloepithelial cells. In conclusion, tubuloepithelial cells may play an active role in the local defense against bacteria, e.g. by expressing MHC class II molecules. However, in vitro inflammatory cytokines are not induced by E. coli in this cell population.