Infection of human embryonic myoblasts by West Nile virus (WNV), a flavivirus, caused significant upregulation of class I and II MHC expression as determined by flow cytometry. After 48 hours at a multiplicity of infection of 5 pfu/cell, a sixfold increase in MHC class I expression was induced from initially low levels of expression. In contrast, MHC class II was induced de novo to five times the control fluorescence level. At least 70% of the cells were infected as determined using fluorescence microscopy and anti-WNV antibody labeling. Myoblasts were > 90% pure as shown by anti--Leu-19 labeling. MHC class I (but not class II) was increased threefold after exposure to virus-inactivated supernatant from 48-hour--infected cells, indicating the presence of factor(s) contributing to the MHC class I increase. These findings may be important in establishing a link between viral infection of human cells and induction of inflammatory autoimmune disease. We discuss the possibility of using WNV as an in vivo model.