The promoter region of the endothelial cell nitric oxide synthase (ecNOS) gene contains potential response elements for transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF beta 1). TGF beta 1 plays an important role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, vascular hypertrophy, and angiogenesis. We therefore sought to determine whether TGF beta 1 might modulate ecNOS expression in bovine aortic endothelial cells (BAEC). TGF beta 1 increased ecNOS mRNA in a dose-dependent manner. TGF beta 1 also increased ecNOS protein content. The production of nitrogen oxides (NOx), assessed by chemiluminescence, and nitric oxide synthase activity, assessed by arginine/citrulline conversion were increased in TGF beta 1-treated cells. Transcriptional activity of the 5'-flanking promoter region of the ecNOS gene was increased by TGF beta 1, as assessed by transfection with promoter/luciferase constructs. Deletion analysis suggested that the TGF beta 1-response element was present between nucleotides -1269 and -935 from the first transcription start site, in which a putative nuclear factor-1 (NF-1) binding site existed. Gel shift assays showed that nuclear protein(s), immunologically similar to CCAAT transcription factor/NF-1, bound to the putative NF-1 binding site in a sequence-specific manner. Mutation of the putative NF-1 binding site in the promoter/luciferase construct significantly decreased the responsiveness to TGF beta 1. In conclusion, TGF beta 1 increases ecNOS expression associated with an increase in production of NO in BAEC. This response is probably mediated by transcriptional activation of the ecNOS gene promoter.