The transcriptional nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB can be activated by diverse stimuli such as cytokines, mitogens, oxidative stress, and lipids, leading to the transactivation of several genes that play important roles in the development of atherosclerosis. Because oxidative stress may play a key role in the pathogenesis of diabetic vascular disease, we have examined whether culture of porcine vascular smooth muscle cells (PVSMCs) under high glucose (HG) conditions (25 mmol/l) to simulate the diabetic state can lead to the activation of NF-kappaB, and also whether cytokine- or growth factor-induced NF-kappaB activation is altered by HG culture. We observed that PVSMCs cultured in HG showed significantly greater activation of NF-kappaB in the basal state compared with cells cultured in normal glucose (NG) (5.5 mmol/l). Treatment of the cells with cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and interleukin-1beta, or with growth factors, such as platelet-derived growth factor, insulin-like growth factor-I, and epidermal growth factor, all led to NF-kappaB activation in cells cultured in both NG and HG. However, their effects were markedly greater in HG. The augmented TNF-alpha-induced NF-kappaB activation in HG was associated with increased TNF-alpha-mediated transcriptional activation of the vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 promoter. Immunoblotting with an antibody to the p65 subunit of NF-kappaB indicated that the levels of this protein were higher in the nuclear extracts from cells cultured in HG compared with NG. Cells cultured in HG also produced significantly greater amounts of the reactive oxygen species superoxide. HG-induced NF-kappaB activation was inhibited by a protein kinase C inhibitor, calphostin C. These results suggest that hyperglycemia-induced activation of NF-kappaB in VSMCs may be a key mechanism for the accelerated vascular disease observed in diabetes.

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