Diabetes is associated with endothelial dysfunction and increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and renal complications. Earlier studies have revealed that hyperglycemia impairs nitric oxide (NO) production and diabetes causes endothelial dysfunction in humans and experimental animals. This study was designed to test the effects of altered concentrations of glucose, insulin, and glucagon, the principal variables in types I and II diabetes, on NO production and endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) expression in cultured human coronary endothelial cells. Cultured endothelial cells were incubated in the presence of glucose at either normal (5.6 mM) or high (25 mM) concentrations for 7 days. The rates of basal and bradykinin-stimulated NO production (nitrate + nitrite) and eNOS protein expression (Western blot) were then determined at the basal condition and in the presence of insulin (10(-8) and 10(-7) M), glucagon (10(-8) and 10(-7) M), or both. Incubation with a high-glucose concentration for 7 days significantly downregulated, whereas insulin significantly upregulated, basal and bradykinin-stimulated NO production and eNOS expression in cultured endothelial cells. The stimulatory action of insulin was mitigated by high-glucose concentration and abolished by cotreatment of cells with glucagon. Thus hyperglycemia, insulinopenia, and hyperglucagonemia, which frequently coexist in diabetes, can work in concert to suppress NO production by human coronary artery endothelial cells.