11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases (11beta-HSD) perform prereceptor metabolism of glucocorticoids through interconversion of the active glucocorticoid, cortisol, with inactive cortisone. Although the immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory activities of glucocorticoids are well documented, the expression of 11beta-HSD enzymes in immune cells is not well understood. Here we demonstrate that 11beta-HSD1, which converts cortisone to cortisol, is expressed only upon differentiation of human monocytes to macrophages. 11beta-HSD1 expression is concomitant with the emergence of peroxisome proliferator activating receptor gamma, which was used as a surrogate marker of monocyte differentiation. The type 2 enzyme, 11beta-HSD2, which converts cortisol to cortisone, was not detectable in either monocytes or cultured macrophages. Incubation of monocytes with IL-4 or IL-13 induced 11beta-HSD1 activity by up to 10-fold. IFN-gamma, a known functional antagonist of IL-4 and IL-13, suppressed the induction of 11beta-HSD1 by these cytokines. THP-1 cells, a human macrophage-like cell line, expressed 11beta-HSD1 and low levels of 11beta-HSD2. The expression of 11beta-HSD1 in these cells is up-regulated 4-fold by LPS. In summary, we have shown strong expression of 11beta-HSD1 in cultured human macrophages and THP-1 cells. The presence of the enzyme in these cells suggests that it may play a role in regulating the immune function of these cells.