The VSMC is an important target for the injurious effects of hyperglycemia in vivo. PKC plays a key role in the regulation of VSMC contraction and growth. This study examines whether elevated extracellular glucose concentrations (10–30 mM [180–540 mg/dl]) activate PKC in cultured rat VSMCs in vitro. A new, rapid, and highly specific assay was used to determine in situ PKC activity in digitonin-permeabilized VSMCs. PKC activity in VSMCs responded rapidly to variations in extracellular glucose concentrations. PKC was activated significantly within 10 min of exposure to D-glucose (20 mM) versus glucose (5 mM). Moreover, with continued exposure to D-glucose (20 mM), PKC activation was sustained for up to 48 h. Reducing D-glucose concentrations to 5 mM restored PKC activity to control values within 1 h. PKC activation was also glucose-concentration dependent. A threshold of only 15 mM (270 mg/dl) was required to significantly and maximally activate PKC in VSMC. PKC was not activated in the presence of osmotic control media that contained either elevated mannrtol or L-glucose concentrations. In marked contrast to the sustained PKC activation induced by D-glucose in VSMCs, the normal physiological PKC response to the pressor hormones, All and AVP, was short-lived and returned to base line within minutes. Sustained PKC activation in the presence of elevated D-glucose concentrations in vitro could disturb the normal physiological regulation of VSMC function and growth and thereby may contribute to the apparent vasotoxicity of hyperglycemia in vivo.

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