Nitric oxide (NO) produced by endothelial nitric-oxide synthase (eNOS) represents an antithrombotic and anti-atherosclerotic principle in the vasculature. Hence, an enhanced expression of eNOS in response to pharmacological interventions could provide protection against cardiovascular diseases. In EA.hy 926 cells, a cell line derived from human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), an artichoke leaf extract (ALE) increased the activity of the human eNOS promoter (determined by luciferase reporter gene assay). An organic subfraction from ALE was more potent in this respect than the crude extract, whereas an aqueous subfraction of ALE was without effect. ALE and the organic subfraction thereof also increased eNOS mRNA expression (measured by an RNase protection assay) and eNOS protein expression (determined by Western blot) both in EA.hy 926 cells and in native HUVECs. NO production (measured by NO-ozone chemiluminescence) was increased by both extracts. In organ chamber experiments, ex vivo incubation (18 h) of rat aortic rings with the organic subfraction of ALE enhanced the NO-mediated vasodilator response to acetylcholine, indicating that the up-regulated eNOS remained functional. Caffeoylquinic acids and flavonoids are two major groups of constituents of ALE. Interestingly, the flavonoids luteolin and cynaroside increased eNOS promoter activity and eNOS mRNA expression, whereas the caffeoylquinic acids cynarin and chlorogenic acid were without effect. Thus, in addition to the lipid-lowering and antioxidant properties of artichoke, an increase in eNOS gene transcription may also contribute to its beneficial cardiovascular profile. Artichoke flavonoids are likely to represent the active ingredients mediating eNOS up-regulation.