Protein kinase C (PKC) plays a key role in a variety of signal transduction processes. The promoter region of the endothelial constitutive nitric oxide synthase (ecNOS) gene contains a transcriptional factor AP-1 binding element. In the present study, we sought to determine the effect of PKC inhibition on the expression of ecNOS in cultured bovine aortic endothelial cells (BAEC). The PKC inhibitor staurosporine (10 to 100 nmol/L) increased the expression of ecNOS mRNA, assessed by Northern analysis, in a dose-dependent manner. A newly developed, more specific PKC inhibitor, chelerythrine (1 to 3 mumol/L), also increased the level of ecNOS mRNA. Incubation of BAEC with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (100 nmol/L) for 24 hours, which downregulates PKC, increased ecNOS mRNA expression. The protein content of ecNOS, assessed by Western analysis, was also increased in staurosporine-treated or chelerythrine-treated BAEC. The release of nitrogen oxides from staurosporine-treated or chelerythrine-treated cells both under basal conditions and in response to calcium ionophore A23187 was significantly increased (P < .05). In conclusion, the present study suggests that regulation of ecNOS is mediated by PKC. The increased release of nitric oxide induced by PKC inhibition may play a protective role against atherogenic process.