Human mesangial cells produce the monocyte-specific chemotactic factor monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) in response to a variety of stimuli, including the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1 beta (IL-1). The intracellular signals responsible for mediating the effects of IL-1 on MCP-1 expression in human mesangial cells have not been defined. Evidence from other types of cells suggests that protein kinases are involved in MCP-1 gene regulation. We investigated the role of protein kinase pathways in mediating IL-1-induced MCP-1 expression. Activation of protein kinase C (PKC) by phorbol esters or diacyglycerol up-regulated mesangial MCP-1 message and bioactivity in a fashion similar to IL-1. However, while inhibition of PKC activity completely blocked phorbol-induced MCP-1 up-regulation, induction by IL-1 was not prevented. Inhibitors of cyclic AMP (cAMP)-dependent protein kinase (PKA) also failed to block IL-1-induced MCP-1 expression. Furthermore, increasing intracellular cAMP and activating PKA attenuated basal MCP-1 mRNA levels by 82% and blocked IL-1 induced MCP-1 expression by 88%. Finally, the role of protein tyrosine kinases was studied. The structurally distinct protein tyrosine kinase (PTK) inhibitors genistein, herbimycin A, and tyrphostin each caused a dose-dependent inhibition of the effects of IL-1 on mesangial MCP-1 activity. IL-1 treatment of mesangial cells resulted in the up-regulation of three tyrosine phosphoproteins with apparent molecular masses between 40 and 62 kD. These results suggest that the effects of IL-1 on MCP-1 expression are not mediated through PKC or cAMP-PKA, but may be transduced through PTKs.