Tubulointerstitial changes, characterized by the accumulation of extracellular matrix proteins (ECM) and fibrosis, are often associated with primary glomerular injury. Furthermore, these changes may be better prognostic indicators for decline in renal function than the anatomical changes seen within the glomerulus itself. Although hyperlipidemia and the increased renal accumulation of atherogenic lipoproteins are commonly seen in both human and experimental models of renal disease, the possible role that atherogenic lipoproteins may play in the cellular and molecular events associated with the development of tubulointerstitial injury remains unclear. Since atherogenic lipoproteins have been shown to be mediators of renal injury, we examined the effects of native LDL and oxidatively-modified LDL (ox-LDL, a more atherogenic form of LDL) on fibronectin protein synthesis and gene expression in proximal tubular epithelial cells (TEC). Human LDL was freshly isolated and ox-LDL prepared by incubation of LDL with 100 microM CuS04. Incubation of TEC with LDL or ox-LDL (25-50 micrograms/ml) for 24 h increased the steady-state mRNA expression of fibronectin by 16-135% over control as measured by Northern blot analysis and the effect was greater with ox-LDL than native LDL. Additional studies were done to examine whether the increased fibronectin message in response to lipoprotein activation was translated into TEC protein synthesis. The activation of TEC by LDL or ox-LDL stimulated the synthesis and secretion of fibronectin (52-150%, over control) as measured by Western blot analysis. The data show that LDL and ox-LDL stimulate TEC fibronectin gene message and protein synthesis supporting a pathobiological role for these atherogenic lipoproteins in tubulointerstitial fibrosis.