Hypertonic glucose in a peritoneal dialysate may modulate cell metabolism in the peritoneal cavity during continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). To examine the effects of high glucose concentration and hyperosmolarity, rat mesothelial cells were cultured for 3 or 6 days in media containing either 5, 25 or 50 mM glucose containing 20 or 45 mM mannitol. Fibronectin gene expression was investigated by Northern blot analysis. By day 6, fibronectin mRNA levels increased compared to 5 mM glucose controls with increasing glucose concentration (25 mM, 193%, 50 mM, 314%); high osmolarity due to mannitol did not increase mRNA levels (20 mM and 45 mM mannitol yielded 75 and 104%, respectively). Thus, hypertonic glucose augments fibronectin gene expression in peritoneal mesothelial cells due to the higher concentrations of glucose and not to hyperosmolarity. The glucose-driven increase in fibronectin expression may contribute to the peritoneal fibrosis in CAPD patients.