Connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), a member of the closely related CCN family of cytokines appears to be fibrotic in skin. To determine whether CTGF is implicated in diabetic glomerulosclerosis we studied cultured rat mesangial cells (MC) as well as kidney cortex and microdissected glomeruli from obese, diabetic db/db mice and their normal counterparts. Exposure of MC to rhCTGF significantly increased fibronectin and collagen type I secretion. Further, unstimulated MC expressed low levels of CTGF message and secreted minimal amounts of CTGF protein (36-38 kDa). However, exposure to TGF-beta, increased glucose concentrations, or cyclic mechanical strain, all causal factors in glomerulosclerosis, markedly induced the expression of CTGF transcripts. With all but mechanical strain there was a concomitant stimulation of CTGF protein secretion. TGF-beta also induced abundant quantities of a small molecular weight form of CTGF (18 kDa). The induction of CTGF protein by a high glucose concentration was mediated by TGF-beta, since a TGF-beta neutralizing antibody blocked this stimulation. In vivo studies using quantitative RT-PCR demonstrated that while CTGF transcripts were low in the glomeruli of control mice, expression was increased 27-fold after approximately 3.5 months of diabetes. These changes occurred early in diabetic nephropathy when mesangial expansion was mild, and interstitial disease and proteinuria were absent. A substantially reduced elevation of CTGF mRNA (2-fold) observed in whole kidney cortices indicted that the primary alteration of CTGF expression was in the glomerulus. These results suggest that CTGF upregulation is an important factor in the pathogenesis of mesangial matrix accumulation in both diabetic and non-diabetic glomerulosclerosis, acting downstream of TGF-beta.