A 3- to 8-fold stimulation of interleukin (IL)-8 gene expression by all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) was demonstrated in primary cultures of human and monkey tracheobronchial epithelial cells and BEAS-2B serum-sensitive cell line. The effect of ATRA on IL-8 gene expression is dose- and time-dependent. Using cycloheximide, it was observed that new protein synthesis was required for the stimulation. ATRA had no effect on IL-8 messenger RNA stability. A difference in nuclear run-on activity suggests that a transcriptional mechanism is involved in ATRA-enhanced IL-8 gene expression. Promoter-reporter gene transfection studies demonstrated ATRA enhanced IL-8 promoter activity, especially when cells were cotransfected with retinoic acid nuclear receptor-alpha expression vector. Deletion and site-directed mutagenesis analysis revealed the involvement of nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB binding site of the IL-8 gene in ATRA-enhanced promoter activity. Electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) demonstrated that ATRA enhanced DNA-NF-kappaB complex formation, especially with the p65 subunit. Western blot analysis demonstrated that ATRA did not enhance the protein amount of both the p50 and the p65 subunits in the nuclei. Because ATRA also enhances thioredoxin (TRX) gene expression, the effect of TRX on IL-8 gene expression was examined. IL-8 promoter activity was enhanced in transfected cells by the addition of TRX protein. Treatment of nuclear extracts with TRX also enhanced DNA- NF-kappaB complex formation as observed by EMSA, particularly the p65 subunit. Taking these data together, a novel mechanism is proposed in which ATRA activates promoter activity of IL-8 gene through TRX-dependent NF-kappaB activation.