Flavones have been classified as anti-atherogenic agents that inhibit monocyte adhesion to stimulated endothelium, possibly by blocking induction of cell adhesion molecules (CAM). This anti-atherogenic feature of these flavonoids appears to be related to their chemical structures. Flavones may interfere with key signaling events involved in endothelial cell activation by inflammatory mediators. This study examined the effects of flavones on the induction of CAM and the translocation and DNA binding of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B) in TNF-alpha-activated human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC). The effects of flavones, luteolin and apigenin, on adhesion of THP-1 monocytes to the TNF-alpha-activated HUVEC, protein expression and mRNA levels of vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), intracellular cell adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and E-selectin, and nuclear appearance and DNA binding activity of NF-kappa B were determined. Flavanols, flavonols, and flavanones were used for comparison. TNF-alpha significantly induced HUVEC protein expression of VCAM-1, ICAM-1, and E-selectin with increasing mRNA levels. Luteolin and apigenin inhibited the TNF-alpha-induced upregulation of THP-1 adhesion and VCAM-1 expression; these inhibitory effects were dose-dependent. The flavones at doses of > or =25 micromol/L almost completely abolished the increased CAM protein and mRNA regardless of their anti-oxidative activity. With the exception of the flavonol quercetin, flavonoids had no such effect; quercetin substantially attenuated the CAM induction. The flavones inhibited nuclear translocation and DNA binding activity of the NF-kappa B-containing binding site in the promoter region of the CAM genes in TNF-alpha-activated HUVEC. The inhibition of endothelial CAM induction by flavones is mediated by their interference with the NF-kappa B-dependent transcription pathway. Thus, the flavones may hamper initial atherosclerotic events involving endothelial CAM induction.