Human endothelial cells respond to extracellular proteases, endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide, LPS), and inflammatory cytokines. Endothelial cells express several protease-activated receptors (PAR), including the thrombin-activated receptors PAR-1 and PAR-3 and a thrombin-independent, protease-activated receptor, PAR-2. To examine the potential cooperation between PAR and inflammatory stimuli, we investigated the effects of the PAR-1 agonist peptide Ser-Phe-Leu-Leu-Arg-Asn (SFLLRN) and PAR-2 agonist peptide Ser-Leu-Ile-Gly-Lys-Val (SLIGKV) on endothelial cells. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) were cultured in vitro with SFLLRN or SLIGKV in the presence and absence of LPS or tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels in the culture supernatants were assayed. Both SFLLRN and SLIGKV induced detectable levels of IL-6 production in a dose-dependent fashion, with the PAR-1 receptor agonist being more potent. In the presence of all stimulatory concentrations of LPS or TNF-alpha tested, both peptides were found to further enhance IL-6 production. The effects of SFLLRN and SLIGKV were specific, as related peptides with identical amino acid compositions, but lacking in consensus sequences, were biologically inactive either alone or in the presence of LPS. Both the direct and the amplifying effects of PAR agonist peptides on IL-6 production were pertussis toxin sensitive and caused an increase in the intracellular levels of calcium, implicating G-proteins and calcium mobilization in these pathways. Furthermore, the amplifying effect of LPS or TNF-alpha on PAR-mediated cytokine production was associated with corresponding increases in nuclear NF-kappaB proteins. The results demonstrate significant potentiation of PAR-induced signaling by LPS and TNF-alpha and indicate the potential cooperation of proteases and inflammatory stimuli in amplifying vascular inflammation.