Previous investigations have demonstrated that growing mesangial cells in high glucose concentration stimulates extracellular matrix synthesis and also increases the expression of TGF-beta. We tested whether the stimulation of extracellular matrix production is mediated by autocrine activation of TGF-beta, a known prosclerotic cytokine. Addition of neutralizing anti-TGF-beta antibody, but not normal rabbit IgG, significantly reduced the high glucose-stimulated incorporation of 3[H]proline. Denaturing SDS-PAGE revealed that mainly collagen types I and IV were stimulated by high (450 mg/dl) D-glucose. This high glucose-mediated increase in collagen synthesis was reduced by the anti-TGF-beta antibody. Treatment of mesangial cells grown in normal (100 mg/dl) D-glucose with 2 ng/ml recombinant TGF-beta 1 mimicked the effects of high glucose. Furthermore, the anti-TGF-beta antibody significantly reduced the increase in mRNA levels encoding alpha 2(I) and alpha 1(IV) collagens induced by high glucose. Thus, the high glucose-stimulated increase of collagen production in mesangial cells is mediated, at least in part, by autocrine TGF-beta activation. We postulate that the interception of the glomerular activity of TGF-beta may be an effective intervention in the management of diabetic nephropathy.