Bovine brain microvessel endothelial cells in primary culture retain a differentiated phenotype reminiscent of the in vivo blood-brain barrier endothelium. The IFN-gamma-induced surface expression of MHC class II molecules on those cells is stimulated by catecholamines through a cAMP-independent mechanism. We report that both the induction of MHC class II molecule expression by IFN-gamma and its potentiation by isoproterenol, a catecholamine analog, are preceded by increases of steady-state levels of the corresponding mRNA. Similar results were obtained for the regulation of invariant chain expression. In addition, isoproterenol alone is able to increase class I mRNA levels, but, in contrast to what is observed for class II expression, this effect appears to be mainly mediated by cAMP. These studies demonstrate that, in bovine brain microvessel endothelial cells, catecholamines up-regulate MHC class I and class II Ag, as well as invariant chain with different kinetics and through different mechanisms and suggest that these regulatory effects occur at the transcriptional level.