Background: Caveolae are involved in diverse cellular functions such as signal transduction, cholesterol homeostasis, endo- and transcytosis, and also may serve as entry sites for microorganisms. Hence, their occurrence in epithelium of the airways might be expected but, nonetheless, has not yet been examined. Methods: Western blotting, real-time quantitative PCR analysis of abraded tracheal epithelium and laser-assisted microdissection combined with subsequent mRNA analysis were used to examine the expression of cav-1 and cav-2, two major caveolar coat proteins, in rat tracheal epithelium. Fluorescence immunohistochemistry was performed to locate caveolae and cav-1 and -2 in the airway epithelium of rats, mice and humans. Electron-microscopic analysis was used for the identification of caveolae. CLSM-FRET analysis determined the interaction of cav-1α and cav-2 in situ. Results: Western blotting and laser-assisted microdissection identified protein and transcripts, respectively, of cav-1 and cav-2 in airway epithelium. Real-time quantitative RT-PCR analysis of abraded tracheal epithelium revealed a higher expression of cav-2 than of cav-1. Immunoreactivities for cav-1 and for cav-2 were co-localized in the cell membrane of the basal cells and basolaterally in the ciliated epithelial cells of large airways of rat and human. However, no labeling for cav-1 or cav-2 was observed in the epithelial cells of small bronchi. Using conventional double-labeling indirect immunofluorescence combined with CLSM-FRET analysis, we detected an association of cav-1α and -2 in epithelial cells. The presence of caveolae was confirmed by electron microscopy. In contrast to human and rat, cav-1-immunoreactivity and caveolae were confined to basal cells in mice. Epithelial caveolae were absent in cav-1-deficient mice, implicating a requirement of this caveolar protein in epithelial caveolae formation. Conclusion: These results show that caveolae and caveolins are integral membrane components in basal and ciliated epithelial cells, indicating a crucial role in these cell types. In addition to their physiological role, they may be involved in airway infection.