In upper urinary tract infections, tubular epithelial cells (TEC) may play a pivotal role in the initiation of the renal inflammatory response. They exert crucial immunological functions such as processing and presentation of foreign antigen, secretion of proinflammatory cytokines (interleukin-6 [IL-6] and tumor necrosis factor alpha) and chemokines (IL-8, MCP-1, ENA-78, and RANTES). Since monolayer cultures are a limited model for polarized tubular epithelial cells, we studied the side-dependent IL-8 secretion of TEC by using cell culture inserts as a basement membrane imitation. Primary cultures of proximal TEC were stimulated with differently fimbriated mutants of Escherichia coli, E. coli LPS, S-fimbria isolates, and IL-1α. IL-8 protein was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and IL-8-like biological activity was tested by measuring elastase release from polymorphonuclear cells in supernatants of the upper and lower compartments. IL-8 mRNA was compared by competitive PCR. IL-8 secretion by TEC into the basolateral environment was significantly higher than secretion into the apical compartment, representing the tubular lumen. However, stimulation of IL-8 secretion by TEC was restricted to IL-1α and was not inducible by E. coli mutants, S fimbriae, or lipopolysaccharide. With this in vitro model of polarized TEC, we show that luminal contact of TEC with uropathogenic E. coli does not result in enhanced IL-8 secretion. The basolaterally directed production of the neutrophil chemotactic factor IL-8 by TEC after stimulation with IL-1α might play an important role in the initiation of inflammatory cell influx into the renal parenchyma.