Bovine aortic endothelial and smooth-muscle cells down-regulate the rate of glucose transport in the face of hyperglycaemia, thus providing protection against deleterious effects of increased intracellular glucose levels. When exposed to high glucose concentrations these cells reduced the mRNA and protein content of their typical glucose transporter, GLUT-1, as well as its plasma-membrane abundance. Inhibition of the lipoxygenase (LO) pathway, and particularly 12-LO, reversed this glucose-induced down-regulatory process and restored the rate of hexose transport to the level seen in vascular cells exposed to normal glucose levels. This reversal was accompanied by increased levels of GLUT-1 mRNA and protein, as well as of its plasma-membrane content. Exposure of the vascular cells to elevated glucose concentrations increased by 2-3-fold the levels of cell-associated and secreted 12-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (12-HETE), the product of 12-LO. Inhibition of 15- and 5-LO, cyclo-oxygenases 1 and 2, and eicosanoid-producing cytochrome P450 did not modify the hexose-transport system in vascular cells. These results suggest a role for HETEs in the autoregulation of hexose transport in vascular cells. 8-Iso prostaglandin F(2alpha), a non-enzymic oxidation product of arachidonic acid, had no effect on the hexose-transport system in vascular cells exposed to hyperglycaemic conditions. Taken together, these findings show that hyperglycaemia increases the production rate of 12-HETE, which in turn mediates the down-regulation of GLUT-1 expression and the glucose-transport system in vascular endothelial and smooth-muscle cells.