Diesel exhaust particles (DEP) have been proved to induce serious pulmonary injury, among which lethal pulmonary edema has been assumed to be mediated by vascular endothelial cell damage. In the present study, we investigated the cytotoxic mechanism of DEP on human pulmonary artery endothelial cells focusing on the role of active oxygen species. Endothelial cell viability was assessed by WST-8, a novel tetrazolium salt. Nitric oxide (NO) production was measured by using a new fluorescence indicator, diaminofluorescein-2 (DAF-2). Organic compounds in DEP were extracted by dichloromethane and methanol. DEP-extracts damaged endothelial cells under both subconfluent and confluent conditions. The DEP-extract-induced cytotoxicity was markedly reduced by treatment with SOD, catalase, N-(2-mercaptopropionyl)-glycine (MPG), or ebselen (a selenium-containing compound with glutathione peroxidase-like activity). Thus superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, and other oxygen-derived free radicals are likely to be implicated in DEP-extract-induced endothelial cell damage. Moreover, L-NAME and L-NMA, inhibitors of NO synthase, also attenuated DEP-extract-induced cytotoxicity, while sepiapterin, the precursor of tetrahydrobiopterin (BH(4), a NO synthase cofactor) interestingly enhanced DEP-extract-induced cell damage. These findings suggest that NO is also involved in DEP-extract-mediated cytotoxicity, which was confirmed by direct measurement of NO production. These active oxygen species, including peroxynitrite, may explain the mechanism of endothelial cell damage upon DEP exposure during the early stage.