Interleukin-1β (IL-1β) has been shown in numerous studies to increase prostaglandin output by cultures of human amnion cells. This is due to an increase in the expression of type-2 prostaglandin H synthase (PGHS-2), the inducible form of the enzyme, in these cultures. Amnion consists of an epithelial layer of cells and a subepithelial mesenchymal layer of cells. The purpose of the present study was to determine the cell-type(s) responsible for the IL-1β-induced PGHS-2 expression in amnion cultures. Amnion was obtained at term after elective Cesarean section or vaginal delivery. Tissues were dispersed with collagenase, and cells were plated in multichamber culture slides and cultured for 7 days in media supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum. Cell types were characterized with antisera to keratin (epithelial cells) and vimentin (mesenchymal cells). Cultures contained both cell types, and the proportion of these varied considerably from one culture to another. Cells were treated with various concentrations of IL-1β for 6 or 24 h and were then fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde. The fixed cells were permeabilized with Triton and examined by immunohistochemistry for PGHS-2 protein using specific antisera, and PGHS-2 mRNA was localized by in situ hybridization using a specific oligonucleotide probe. The cell type(s) expressing PGHS-2 was characterized using double labeling with antisera to keratin (epithelial cell marker) and vimentin (mesenchymal cell marker). IL-1β was found to increase expression of immunoreactive PGHS-2 and PGHS-2 mRNA. This increased expression was found to occur only in the vimentin-positive cells and not the epithelial cells. These results highlight the potential importance of the subepithelial cells in the mesenchymal layer of amnion in the formation of prostaglandins during pregnancy and possibly in preterm labor with infection.