Nonspecific inflammation is associated with primary graft nonfunction (PNF). Inflammatory islet damage is mediated at least partially by pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) produced by resident islet macrophages. The p38 pathway is known to be involved in cytokine production in the cells of the monocyte-macrophage lineage. Therefore, inhibition of the p38 pathway may prevent pro-inflammatory cytokine production by resident islet macrophages and possibly reduce the incidence of PNF. Our present study has demonstrated that inhibition of the p38 pathway by a chemical p38 inhibitor, SB203580, suppresses IL-1beta and TNF-alpha production in human islets exposed to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and/or inflammatory cytokines. Although IL-1beta is predominantly produced by resident macrophages, ductal cells and islet vascular endothelial cells were found to be another cellular source of IL-1beta in isolated human islets. SB203580 also inhibited the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in the treated islets. Furthermore, human islets treated with SB203580 for 1 h prior to transplantation showed significantly improved graft function. These results suggest that inhibition of the p38 pathway may become a new therapeutic strategy to improve graft survival in clinical islet transplantation.