Among other channels, voltage-gated chloride channels (ClC) regulate cell volume, membrane potential and cellular transport. Because changes in trabecular meshwork (TM) cell volume influence outflow facility and because the relative abundance of a gene's transcript is an indication of the relevance of the gene's function, we investigated the presence and relative expression of seven members of the CLCN gene family in the human TM. To elucidate the role of ClC-2 and ClC-3 in cell swelling, we studied changes in their mRNA levels after hypotonic shock. In addition, to examine the potential involvement of these two channels in conditions associated with glaucoma, we determined their transcripts levels in response to elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) and dexamethasone (DEX). For our evaluations, we used non-transformed human TM cells and perfused human anterior segments from post-mortem donors. For hypotonic shock, cells were exposed to 260 mOsm kg(-1) medium for 15 and 30 min. For DEX, cells were treated with 0.1 microm DEX for 1, 4 and 10 days. For elevated IOP, one eye of each pair of perfused human anterior segments was subjected to DeltaP 38+/-4 mm Hg for 1 hr, 4 and 7 days while the contralateral remained at baseline pressure as a control. ClCs transcripts were determined by relative quantitative RT-PCR. Our results showed that all transcripts but ClC-1 were detected in HTM cells. ClC-2 and ClC-3 were the most abundant and comprised about twice the amount of ClC-6 and ClC-7 and four times that of ClC-4 and ClC-5. Hypotonic conditions consistently up regulated CLCN2 and slightly up regulated CLCN3. After short periods of elevated pressure, ClC-2 and ClC-3 transcripts were increased but ClC-2 induction was significantly higher than that of ClC-3. In contrast, after long pressure insults (7 days), ClC-3 mRNA was significantly increased while CLCN2 was not changed. DEX treatment markedly down regulated CLCN3 and little, if any, reduced ClC-2. The extent of response of the CLCN2 and CLCN3 to these conditions was markedly affected by individual traits but at all times maintained the relative expression pattern of both genes. CLCN2 gene expression was predominantly influenced by cell volume regulation while that of CLCN3 was preferentially affected by conditions associated with TM pathology.