Background. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is associated with allograft vasculopathy and rejection. One potential mechanism is vascular injury from immunologically mediated processes. HCMV infection has been shown to increase the constitutive expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1). The objective of this study was to determine the molecular basis of HCMV enhanced ICAM-1 gene expression in endothelial cells using human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) as a model. Methods. HUVECS were infected with HCMV virus and the level of ICAM-1 mRNA determined over time. HUVECS were then transiently transfected with plasmid constructs containing ICAM-1 and HCMV immediate early (IE) gene sequences and the effect of IE proteins on ICAM-1 promoter expression determined. Antibodies to cytokines known to be affected by HCMV IE proteins or to modulate ICAM-1 expression were added to determine if cytokines were mediating ICAM-1 expression. Results. Infection of HUVECs with HCMV resulted in a rapid rise in ICAM-1 mRNA levels, suggesting that the viral IE proteins were involved in gene activation. The HCMV IE1 and IE2 proteins synergistically activated both transfected and endogenous ICAM-1 gene expression. The addition of antibodies to interleukin-1, tumor necrosis factor-α, transforming growth factor-β, or interleukin-6 had no effect on the IE protein-mediated increase in ICAM-1 expression. Deletion analysis of the ICAM-1 gene promoter revealed that a minimum of 370 base pairs of 5' flanking sequences was required for maximal transactivation by IE proteins; mutation analysis showed that an NFκB site at base pairs -187 to -178 was not required for promoter activation. Conclusions. These results demonstrate that HCMV regulates the heterologous ICAM-1 gene promoter in endothelial cells not via cellular cytokine production, but rather by a direct effect of IE proteins, and supports a model in which HCMV IE gene products interact with ICAM-1 promoter elements to increase gene expression.