Dithiocarbamates are well-known antioxidants and nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) inhibitors. Recently, they have been characterized as zinc ionophores. Concentration-dependent biphasic effects of dithiocarbamates on NF-kappaB activity have been widely reported. We studied the mechanism of this phenomenon in relation to Zn(2+) influx. Two dithiocarbamates, pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate and diethyldithiocarbamate, showed concentration-dependent biphasic effects in inhibiting NF-kappaB activation in cerebral endothelial cells. These unique effects of dithiocarbamates on NF-kappaB were tightly linked to their ability to elevate intracellular Zn(2+)500 microM), dithiocarbamates started to lose their ability to promote Zn(2+) influx and to inhibit NF-kappaB activation. These results might provide insight into the appropriate use of dithiocarbamates in various disorders.