The mechanism of CD40/CD154-induced chemokine production and its potential role in renal inflammatory disease were explored. Human proximal tubule cells maintained in primary culture were used as the experimental model. With the use of immunocytochemistry, confocal microscopy, and a cell fractionation assay, the CD40 receptor was found to be expressed in the cell membrane of the epithelial cell, and, on engagement by CD154, its cognate ligand, translocated to the cytoplasmic compartment. Engagement of CD40 by CD154 stimulated interleukin-8 (IL-8) and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) production, which proceeded via receptor activation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2, stress-activated protein kinase (SAPK)/c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase (JNK), and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways. CD40 ligation also engaged tumor necrosis factor receptor-activating factor 6 (TRAF6), as evidenced by colocalization of the activated receptor with TRAF6 in the cytoplasmic compartment, translocation of both proteins from the insoluble to the soluble cell fraction, and coimmunoprecipitation of the two proteins only under ligand-stimulated conditions. Furthermore, an antisense oligodeoxyribonucleotide targeted against TRAF6 mRNA blunted p38 and SAPK/JNK but not ERK1/2 MAPK activities, as well as IL-8 and MCP-1 production, arguing that TRAF6 is an upstream activator. The zinc chelator TPEN, but not the calcium chelator BAPTA, obliterated CD154-evoked MAPK activity and chemokine production, providing indirect evidence for protein-protein interactions playing a critical role in CD40 signaling in these cells. We conclude that in human proximal tubule cells, CD40 and TRAF6 reside in separate low-density, detergent-insoluble membrane microdomains, or rafts, and on activation translocate and associate with one another probably via zinc-finger domains in the soluble or cytoplasmic compartment. TRAF6, in turn, activates SAPK/JNK and p38 MAPK phosphorylation, which in turn stimulates IL-8 and MCP-1 production in these cells.