AIM: Staphylococci are a major contribution for neonatal sepsis, which is the main risk factor for bronchopulmonary dysplasia. This study investigated the expression of pro-inflammatory mediators in endothelial and respiratory cells from newborns exposed to staphylococci. METHODS: Human vascular endothelial cells and small airway epithelial cells were incubated with neonatal blood isolates of Staphylococcus epidermidis (n = 14) and Staphylococcus aureus (n = 14). The extracellular release of IL-8, IL-10, sICAM-1, ICAM-1 mRNA and the expression of membrane bound ICAM-1 were assessed by ELISA, RT-PCR and immunofluorescence microscopy. RESULTS: Staphylococcus epidermidis induced higher levels of IL-8 (mean 38.5 ng/mL) and ICAM-1 mRNA (mean ratio 1.037) in the small airway epithelial cells than S. aureus (IL-8 mean 22.2 ng/mL, p < 0.01 and ICAM-1 mRNA mean ratio 0.715, p < 0.01). In the endothelial cells, ICAM-1 remained more integrated in the cell membranes after exposure to S. epidermidis compared with S. aureus, which induced disintegration and release of soluble ICAM-1 into the supernatants. CONCLUSION: Staphylococcus epidermidis induced a higher chemoattractive response than S. aureus. A persistent transmigration of granulocytes into the lung tissue in neonatal S. epidermidis sepsis might contribute to the development of bronchopulmonary dysplasia. ©2013 Foundation Acta Paediatrica. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.