The capability of platelet-activating factor (PAF) to induce transcription factor activation was examined. In stably transfected Chinese hamster ovary cells expressing the PAF receptor (CHO-PAFR), PAF stimulation resulted in the nuclear expression of a DNA binding activity with specificity to the kappa B sequence. The p50 and p65 proteins, constituents of the prototypic nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappa B), were identified as components of the DNA protein complexes by antipeptide antibodies in gel supershift as well as UV cross-linking experiments. PAF induced an initial decrease and subsequent increase of cytoplasmic I kappa B alpha levels, accompanied by up-regulation of the I kappa B alpha messenger RNA, a feature of NF-kappa B activation. PAF-induced kappa B binding activity was detected within 15 min after agonist stimulation, peaked at 30-40 min, and remained detectable by 2.5 h. SR 27417, a PAF receptor antagonist, blocked PAF-induced kappa B binding activity but not that induced by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF alpha). Cholera toxin treatment markedly reduced PAF-induced kappa B binding activity, whereas pertussis toxin had no significant inhibitory effect. Neither of the two toxins affected the kappa B binding activity induced by TNF alpha in the same cells. In addition to the CHO-PAFR cells, PAF stimulated kappa B binding activity in the murine P388D1 macrophage and the human ASK.0 B cell lines that express endogenous PAF receptors. These results imply a potential role of PAF in the regulation of gene expression through a G protein-coupled transcription factor activation pathway.