HBEpCs (human bronchial epithelial cells) contribute to airway inflammation by secreting a variety of cytokines and chemokines in response to allergens, pathogens, viruses and environmental toxins and pollutants. The potent neutrophil chemoattractant, IL-8 (interleukin-8), is a major cytokine secreted by HBEpCs. We have recently demonstrated that LPA (lysophosphatidic acid) stimulated IL-8 production in HBEpCs via protein kinase C delta dependent signal transduction. However, mechanisms of IL-8 expression and secretion are complex and involve multiple protein kinases and transcriptional factors. The present study was undertaken to investigate MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) signalling in the transcriptional regulation of IL-8 expression and secretion in HBEpCs. Exposure of HBEpCs to LPA (1 microM) enhanced expression and secretion of IL-8 by 5-8-fold and stimulated threonine/tyrosine phosphorylation of ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase), p38 MAPK and JNK (c-Jun N-terminal kinase). The LPA-induced secretion of IL-8 was blocked by the p38 MAPK inhibitor SB203580, by p38 MAPK siRNA (small interfering RNA), and by the JNK inhibitor JNK(i) II, but not by the MEK (MAPK/ERK kinase) inhibitor, PD98059. LPA enhanced the transcriptional activity of the IL-8 gene; that effect relied on activation of the transcriptional factors NF-kappaB (nuclear factor kappaB) and AP-1 (activator protein-1). Furthermore, SB203580 attenuated LPA-dependent phosphorylation of IkappaB (inhibitory kappaB), NF-kappaB and phospho-p38 translocation to the nucleus, NF-kappaB transcription and IL-8 promoter-mediated luciferase reporter activity, without affecting the JNK pathway and AP-1 transcription. Similarly, JNK(i) II only blocked LPA-mediated phosphorylation of JNK and c-Jun, AP-1 transcription and IL-8 promoter-mediated luciferase reporter activity, without blocking p38 MAPK-dependent NF-kappaB transcription. Additionally, siRNA for LPA(1-3) receptors partially blocked LPA-induced IL-8 production and activation of MAPKs. The LPA1 and LPA3 receptors, as compared with LPA2, were most efficient in transducing LPA-mediated IL-8 production. These results show an independent role for p38 MAPK and JNK in LPA-induced IL-8 expression and secretion via NF-kappaB and AP-1 transcription respectively in HBEpCs.