Norepinephrine (NE) causes hypertrophic growth of cardiac myocytes via stimulation of alpha1-adrenergic receptors (alpha1-AR). Reactive oxygen species (ROS) can act as signaling molecules for cell growth. Accordingly, we tested the hypothesis that ROS mediate alpha1-AR-stimulated hypertrophic growth in adult rat ventricular myocytes (ARVM). NE increased the level of intracellular ROS as assessed by lucigenin chemiluminescence or cytochrome c reduction, and this effect was prevented by the superoxide dismutase (SOD)-mimetic MnTMPyP. NE also caused the induction of MnSOD mRNA. alpha1-AR stimulation with NE (1 microM) in the presence of propranolol (2 microM) for 48-96 h caused a hypertrophic growth phenotype characterized by a 36+/-3% increase in 3H-leucine incorporation, a 49+/-14% increase in protein accumulation, a six-fold induction of atrial natriuretic peptide mRNA, actin filament reorganization, and the induction of MnSOD mRNA. These responses were all prevented by pretreatment with the alpha1-AR-selective antagonist prazosin (100 n M) or the SOD-mimetics MnTMPyP (50 microM) and Euk-8 (100 microM). MnTMPyP had no effect on alpha1-AR-stimulated 3H-inositol phosphate turnover or the hypertrophic phenotype caused by the protein kinase C activator phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate. Thus, ROS play a critical role in mediating the hypertrophic growth response to alpha1-AR-stimulation in ARVM.