Albumin modified by Amadori glucose adducts, formed in increased amounts in diabetes, stimulates collagen IV production and gene expression in renal glomerular mesangial cells, and induces mesangial matrix accumulation accompanied by increased mRNA encoding alpha 1 (IV) collagen and fibronectin in diabetic animals. These effects contribute to the pathogenesis of diabetic nephropathy, and resemble biologic activities of the cytokine TGF-beta 1, which also has been causally implicated in diabetic renal disease. We postulated that Amadori-modified glycated albumin modulates TGF-beta 1 expression in mesangial cells, and that TGF-beta 1 participates in mediating the glycated albumin-induced increases in mesangial cell matrix production. To test this hypothesis, we measured mRNA encoding TGF-beta 1, the TGF-beta Type II receptor and fibronectin, a key matrix component of the TGF-beta 1 tissue response, after incubation of mesangial cells with glycated albumin. Steady state levels of the mRNAs encoding for these proteins were stimulated when mesangial cells were cultured in the presence of albumin containing Amadori glucose adducts compared with levels in cells cultured with the nonglycated, glucose-free counterpart. The glycated protein-induced changes in mRNA expression were observed with concentrations of glycated albumin encompassing those found in clinical specimens and in media containing physiologic (5.5 mM) glucose concentrations, indicating that they were due to the glucose-modified protein and not to a hyperglycemic milieu. Further, they were accompanied by increased translated fibronectin protein, which was prevented with TGF-beta neutralizing antibody, as was the glycated albumin-induced increase in fibronectin mRNA. The findings indicate that Amadori-modified glycated albumin stimulates mesangial cell TGF-beta 1 gene expression by mechanisms that are operative under normoglycemic conditions. These data provide the first link between elevated glycated serum albumin concentrations and increased TGF-beta 1 bioactivity in the pathogenesis of mesangial matrix accumulation in diabetes.