To investigate the role of iron and active oxygen species (AOS) in asbestos-induced fibrosis, we loaded increasing amounts of Fe(II)/Fe(III) onto the surface of amosite asbestos fibers and then applied the fibers to rat tracheal explants. Explants were harvested after 7 d in air organ culture. Asbestos by itself doubled procollagen gene expression, and a further increase was seen with increasing iron loading; actual collagen content measured as hydroxyproline was increased in a similar pattern. Iron loading also increased gene expression of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)-A and transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta(1). Neither asbestos alone nor iron-loaded asbestos affected gene expression of PDGF-B, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, or TGF-alpha. The AOS scavenger tetramethylthiourea or treatment of fibers with the iron chelator deferoxamine prevented asbestos-induced increases in procollagen, PDGF-A, and TGF-beta gene expression, whereas glutathione had no effect. The proteasome inhibitor MG-132 abolished asbestos-induced increases in procollagen gene expression but did not affect increases in PDGF-A or TGF-beta(1) expression, whereas the extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (ERK) inhibitor PD98059 had exactly the opposite effect. We conclude that surface iron as well as the iron-catalyzed generation of AOS play a role in asbestos-induced matrix (procollagen) production and that this process is driven in part through oxidant-induced nuclear factor kappa B activation. Surface iron and AOS also play a role in PDGF-A and TGF-beta gene expression, but through an ERK-dependent mechanism.