The present study was undertaken to investigate the mechanism of expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) in human primary astrocytes. Among IL-1beta, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma, only IL-1beta alone was capable of inducing iNOS. Similarly, among different cytokine combinations, the combinations involving only IL-1beta as a partner were capable of inducing iNOS. The combination of IL-1beta and IFN-gamma (IL-IF) induced the expression of iNOS at the highest level. All three cytokines alone induced the activation of AP-1 while IL-1beta and TNF-alpha but not IFN-gamma induced the activation of NF-kappaB. However, among the three cytokines, only IL-1beta was capable of inducing the activation of CCAAT/enhancer-binding proteinbeta (C/EBPbeta), suggesting an essential role of C/EBPbeta in the expression of iNOS in astrocytes. Although IL-1beta and IFN-gamma alone induced the activation of AP-1, the combination of these two cytokines (IL-IF) markedly inhibited the activation of AP-1. Consistently, JNK-I, a specific inhibitor of JNK, inhibited IL-1beta-mediated activation of AP-1 and expression of iNOS. On the other hand, JNK-I had no effect on (IL-IF)-induced expression of iNOS, suggesting that the activation of AP-1 is involved only during the low level of iNOS induction by IL-1beta but not during the high level of induction by IL-IF. In contrast, the activation of gamma-activation site (GAS) was involved only during the high level of induction by IL-IF but not during the low level of induction by IL-1beta. However, the activation of NF-kappaB and C/EBPbeta was involved in the induction of iNOS by IL-1beta as well as by IL-IF.