We addressed the role of hyperglycemia in leukocyte-endothelium interaction under flow conditions by exposing human umbilical vein endothelial cells for 24 h to normal (5 mM), high concentration of glucose (30 mM), advanced glycosylation end product-albumin (100 microg/ml), or hyperglycemic (174-316 mg/dl) sera from patients with diabetes and abnormal hemoglobin A1c (8.1+/-1.4%). At the end of incubation endothelial cells were perfused with total leukocyte suspension in a parallel plate flow chamber under laminar flow (1.5 dyn/cm2). Rolling and adherent cells were evaluated by digital image processing. Results showed that 30 mM glucose significantly (P < 0. 01) increased the number of adherent leukocytes to endothelial cells in respect to control (5 mM glucose; 151+/-19 versus 33+/-8 cells/mm2). A similar response was induced by endothelial stimulation with IL-1beta, here used as positive control (195+/-20 cells/mm2). The number of rolling cells on endothelial surface was not affected by high glucose level. Stable adhesion of leukocytes to glucose-treated as well as to IL-1beta-stimulated endothelial cells was preceded by short interaction of leukocytes with the endothelial surface. The distance travelled by leukocytes before arrest on 30 mM glucose, or on IL-1beta-treated endothelial cells, was significantly (P < 0.01) higher than that observed for leukocytes adhering on control endothelium (30 mM glucose: 76.7+/-3.5; IL1beta: 69.7+/-4 versus 5 mM glucose: 21.5+/-5 microm). Functional blocking of E-selectin, intercellular cell adhesion molecule-1, and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 on endothelial cells with the corresponding mouse mAb significantly inhibited glucose-induced increase in leukocyte adhesion (67+/-16, 83+/-12, 62+/-8 versus 144+/-21 cells/ mm2). Confocal fluorescence microscopy studies showed that 30 mM glucose induced an increase in endothelial surface expression of E-selectin, intercellular cell adhesion molecule-1, and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1. Electrophoretic mobility shift assay of nuclear extracts of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) exposed for 1 h to 30 mM glucose revealed an intense NF-kB activation. Treatment of HUVEC exposed to high glucose with the NF-kB inhibitors pyrrolidinedithiocarbamate (100 microM) and tosyl-phe-chloromethylketone (25 microM) significantly reduced (P < 0.05) leukocyte adhesion in respect to HUVEC treated with glucose alone. A significant (P < 0.01) inhibitory effect on glucose-induced leukocyte adhesion was observed after blocking protein kinase C activity with staurosporine (5 nM). When HUVEC were treated with specific antisense oligodesoxynucleotides against PKCalpha and PKCepsilon isoforms before the addition of 30 mM glucose, a significant (P < 0.05) reduction in the adhesion was also seen. Advanced glycosylation end product-albumin significantly increased the number of adhering leukocytes in respect to native albumin used as control (110+/-16 versus 66+/-7, P < 0.01). Sera from diabetic patients significantly (P < 0.01) enhanced leukocyte adhesion as compared with controls, despite normal levels of IL-1beta and TNFalpha in these sera. These data indicate that high glucose concentration and hyperglycemia promote leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium through upregulation of cell surface expression of adhesive proteins, possibly depending on NF-kB activation.