Hemorrhage rapidly increases plasma xanthine oxidase levels as well as the expression of proinflammatory and immunoregulatory cytokines in the lungs. To determine the role of circulating xanthine oxidase (XO), as well as other plasma factors, in affecting pulmonary cytokine expression, we conducted studies in which plasma from hemorrhaged mice was transferred into unhemorrhaged recipient mice. Administration of posthemorrhage plasma to recipient mice increased the levels of mRNA for interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) in lung mononuclear cells. No enhancement of mRNA levels for these cytokines was found in the lungs of mice given allopurinol-treated posthemorrhage plasma or fed a tungsten-enriched, XO-depleting diet prior to transfer of posthemorrhage plasma. Among the nuclear transcriptional regulatory factors examined, only the cyclic AMP response-element binding protein (CREB) was activated in nuclear extracts from lung mononuclear cells of mice that were given posthemorrhage plasma. No activation of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B), nuclear factor interleukin 6 (NF-IL6), activating protein-1 (AP-1), or serum protein-1 (SP-1) was found. These results suggest that the mechanism for hemorrhage-induced increases in pulmonary cytokine expression is by activation of the enhancer CREB through a tissue XO-dependent pathway initiated by plasma-borne mediators.