Granulocyte macrophage-colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), released from alveolar macrophages (AM), is an important regulator of eosinophil, T cell, and macrophage function and survival. We determined the mechanisms of GM-CSF regulation in AM from normal volunteers activated by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) by examining the role of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), and of p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase and MAP kinase kinase (MKK-1). PD 098059 (10 microM), an inhibitor of upstream activator of MKK-1, inhibited GM-CSF expression, but the expression of GM-CSF was not inhibited by SB 203580 (10 microM), an inhibitor of p38-MAP kinase. Phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1 (ERK-1), ERK-2, and p38 MAP kinase by LPS were demonstrated on Western blot analysis. LPS increased NF-kappaB:DNA binding as examined by electrophoretic mobility shift assay, but this was not suppressed by PD 098059 or by SB 203580. LPS induced an increase in NF-kappaB activation as examined by p50 translocation assay without suppression by PD 098059 or by SB 203580. SN50 (100 microM), an inhibitor of NF-kappaB translocation and the specific IKK-2-Inhibitor (AS602868; 10 microM), also prevented GM-CSF expression and release induced by LPS, indicating that GM-CSF release is NF-kappaB-dependent. PD 098059, but not SB 203580, inhibited LPS-induced histone acetyltransferase (HAT) activity, indicating chromatin modification. Furthermore, AS602868 and SN 50 suppressed LPS-induced HAT activity. TSA (10 ng/ml), an inhibitor of histone deacetylase (HDAC), reversed the inhibitory effect of PD 098059, SB 203580, SN 50 and AS602868 on GM-CSF release. GM-CSF expression and release in AM is controlled by NF-kappaB activation, and this is modulated by phosphorylation of MKK-1 and p38 MAP kinase acting on histone acetylation.