The cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and the growth factor basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) are known to induce early response genes such as c-fos and c-jun in various cell types. Activation of AP-1, a heterodimeric complex of Fos and Jun proteins, is required for matrix metalloproteinase production and cell proliferation. However, the signaling pathways by which these two factors influence the expression and activities of AP-1 remain currently poorly characterized. Several studies have shown that cytokines induce reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, but growth factor induction of ROS has not been reported. In the present study we demonstrate that both TNF alpha and bFGF induce ROS production, and that this is a common signaling event involved in the stimulation of c-fos gene expression in chondrocytes. To our knowledge, this is the first report directly demonstrating ROS production upon stimulation with a growth factor. TNF alpha and bFGF induction of ROS production is mediated through flavonoid-containing enzymes such as NADPH oxidase. Moreover, the ROS nitric oxide is not responsible for the induction of c-fos expression by TNF alpha and bFGF. In addition, the inhibitory effects of antioxidants on c-fos expression may account for their protective roles against proliferative and inflammatory diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and arthritis.