Cytokine mediated activation of alveolar macrophages (AMs) is an important event in the pathogenesis of fibrosing alveolitis (FA). Through membrane-associated antigens, cytokines (e.g., tumor necrosis-factor-alpha and interleukin-1) are believed to activate a common kinase cascade that initiates the cytoplasmic degradation of IkappaB and nuclear translocation of "nuclear factor-kappaB" (NF-kappaB). In the nucleus, NF-kappaB promotes the transcription of genes encoding chemokines and cytokines involved in chronic inflammation. Preventing cytokine-mediated NF-kappaB activation is a potential strategy for attenuating the lung injury that occurs in FA. Previously, we have demonstrated that, unlike AMs from healthy volunteers, AMs from patients with inflammatory lung diseases express the coxsackie/adenovirus receptor and the alphav integrins required for adenovirus (Adv) infection. This property allows Adv-mediated transgene delivery to diseased, but not normal, AMs and analysis of molecular pathways involved in gene transcription. In this study, AMs were infected with Adv constructs expressing a defective beta subunit of IkappaB kinase (AdvIKKbetakd) and a defective NF-kappaB inducing kinase (AdvNIKkd) to investigate the contribution of these molecules to NF-kappaB activation. We observed that IKKbeta, but not NIK, was required for NF-kappaB activation. The results of this study identify IKKbeta, but not NIK, as a potential therapeutic target in diseases that involve NF-kappaB-dependent gene transcription.