The role of cytokines has been well documented in the pathogenesis of acute pancreatitis. Antibodies against specific cytokines have been used to treat pancreatitis, with mixed results. The transcription factor nuclear factor (NF)-kappa B is a pleiotropic regulator of many genes involved in stress and inflammatory responses. The aim of this study was to prevent the NF-kappa B binding activity and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha gene overexpression as a possible therapeutic intervention for acute pancreatitis. Reversible acute biliary pancreatitis was induced in male Sprague Dawley rats as established in this laboratory. The animals were sacrificed at 0, 5, 15, 30 min and 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 24 hours after the induction of pancreatitis. NF-kappa B binding activity was determined by electrophoretic mobility shift assay, and TNF-alpha gene expression was assayed by reverse transcription-PCR. NF-kappa B binding activity was markedly higher around 4 hours and persisted up to 24 hours after pancreatitis induction in animals with acute pancreatitis, whereas TNF-alpha mRNA levels peaked at 24 hours. When amobarbital (to block NF-kappa B activation) was given (60 mg/kg body weight, I.P.) 3 hours before induction of pancreatitis, the activation of NF-kappa B and the overexpression of TNF-alpha gene was prevented, with significantly decreased severity of pancreatitis as assessed by amylase and clinical recovery. We conclude that 1) preventing the activation of NF-kappa B eliminates the induced overexpression of inflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha) in acute pancreatitis, 2) such intervention correlates with clinical improvement in pancreatitis, and 3) this genetic modification offers a possible therapeutic intervention in acute pancreatitis.