CD40 is expressed on a variety of cells, including B cells, monocytes, dendritic cells, and fibroblasts. CD40 interacts with CD40L, a 30-33-kD activation-induced CD4+ T cell surface molecule. CD40L-CD40 interactions are known to play key roles in B cell activation and differentiation in vitro and in vivo. We now report that normal human endothelial cells also express CD40 in situ, and CD40L-CD40 interactions induce endothelial cell activation in vitro. Frozen sections from normal spleen, thyroid, skin, muscle, kidney, lung, or umbilical cord were studied for CD40 expression by immunohistochemistry. Endothelial cells from all tissues studied express CD40 in situ. Moreover, human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) express CD40 in vitro, and recombinant interferon gamma induces HUVEC CD40 upregulation. CD40 expression on HUVEC is functionally significant because CD40L+ Jurkat T cells or CD40L+ 293 kidney cell transfectants, but not control cells, upregulate HUVEC CD54 (intercellular adhesion molecule-1), CD62E (E-selectin), and CD106 (vascular cell adhesion molecule-1) expression in vitro. Moreover, the kinetics of CD40L-, interleukin 1-, or tumor necrosis factor alpha-induced CD54, CD62E, and CD106 upregulation on HUVEC are similar. Finally, CD40L-CD40 interactions do not induce CD80, CD86, or major histocompatibility complex class II expression on HUVEC in vitro. These results demonstrate that CD40L-CD40 interactions induce endothelial cell activation in vitro. Moreover, they suggest a mechanism by which activated CD4+ T cells may augment inflammatory responses in vivo by upregulating the expression of endothelial cell surface adhesion molecules.