Oxidants and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) activate transcription factors such as nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), which is involved in the transcription of proinflammatory mediators, including interleukin-8 (IL-8). Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is a naturally occurring flavonoid present in the spice turmeric, which has a long traditional use as a chemotherapeutic agent for many diseases. We hypothesize that curcumin may possess both antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties by increasing the glutathione levels and inhibiting oxidant- and cytokine-induced NF-kappaB activation and IL-8 release from cultured alveolar epithelial cells (A549). Treatment of A549 cells with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2; 100 microM) and TNF-alpha (10 ng/ml) significantly increased NF-kappaB and activator protein-1 (AP-1) activation, as well as IL-8 release. Curcumin inhibited both H2O2- and TNF-alpha-mediated activation of NF-kappaB and AP-1, and IL-8 release. Furthermore, an increased level of GSH and glutamylcysteine ligase catalytic subunit mRNA expression was observed in curcumin-treated cells as compared with untreated cells. Curcumin interacted directly with superoxide anion (O2*-) and hydroxyl radical (*OH) as shown by electron paramagnetic resonance, quenching the interaction of the radicals with the spin trap, Tempone-H. This suggests that curcumin has multiple properties: as an oxygen radical scavenger, antioxidant through modulation of glutathione levels, and antiinflammatory agent through inhibition of IL-8 release in lung cells.