The present study characterizes mechanisms involved with the induction of nitric oxide (NO) production, nitric oxide synthase (NOS) enzymatic activity and mRNA expression in human articular chondrocytes. Activation of chondrocytes with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or IL-1 resulted in time- and dose-dependent increases in iNOS mRNA followed by increased NOS enzymatic activity and NO release. The protein tyrosine kinase (PTK) inhibitors herbimycin A or genistein reduced IL-1 or LPS-induced NO release and NOS enzymatic activity. This was associated with inhibition of iNOS mRNA expression as determined by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and in situ hybridization. In contrast, inhibitors of protein kinase C (PKC) or protein kinase A (PKA) did not affect these responses. These results were confirmed in experiments with second messenger agonists where neither activation of PKC, nor increases in cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) or increased intracellular calcium levels were associated with the induction of iNOS mRNA or NO release. These results suggest that PKC, PKA and calcium-dependent signals are not required or sufficient for the stimulation of NO production. However, NO production is dependent on tyrosine kinases due to their role in the expression of iNOS mRNA.