Interindividual differences of endothelial cells in response to endotoxins might contribute to the diversity in clinical outcome among septic patients. The present study was conducted to test the hypothesis that endothelial cells (EC) with high and low proinflammatory potential exist and to dissect the molecular basis underlying this phenomenon. Thirty human umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) lines were stimulated for 24 h with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and screened for interleukin (IL)-8 production. Based on IL-8 production five low and five high producers, tentatively called types I and II responders, respectively, were selected for genome-wide gene expression profiling. From the 74 genes that were modulated by LPS in all type II responders, 33 genes were not influenced in type I responders. Among the 41 genes that were increased in both responders, 17 were expressed significantly stronger in type II responders. Apart from IL-8, significant differences in the expression of proinflammatory related genes between types I and II responders were found for adhesion molecules [intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM-1), E-selectin)], chemokines [monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP-1), granulocyte chemotactic protein (GCP-2)], cytokines (IL-6) and the transcription factor CCAAT/enhancer binding protein-delta (C/EBP-δ). Type I responders also displayed a low response towards tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α. In general, maximal activation of nuclear factor (NF)-κB was achieved in type I responders at higher concentrations of LPS compared to type II responders. In the present study we demonstrate that LPS-mediated gene expression differs quantitatively and qualitatively in types I and II responders. Our results suggest a pivotal role for common transcription factors as a low inflammatory response was also observed after TNF-α stimulation. Further studies are required to elucidate the relevance of these findings in terms of clinical outcome in septic patients.