To understand the role of redox-sensitive mechanisms in vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) growth, we have studied the effect of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a thiol antioxidant, and diphenyleneiodonium (DPI), a potent NADH/NADPH oxidase inhibitor, on serum-, platelet-derived growth factor BB-, and thrombin-induced ERK2, JNK1, and p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase activation; c-Fos, c-Jun, and JunB expression; and DNA synthesis. Both NAC and DPI completely inhibited agonist-induced AP-1 activity and DNA synthesis in VSMC. On the contrary, these compounds had differential effects on agonist-induced ERK2, JNK1, and p38 MAP kinase activation and c-Fos, c- Jun, and JunB expression. NAC inhibited agonist-induced ERK2, JNK1, and p38 MAP kinase activation and c-Fos, c-Jun, and JunB expression except for platelet-derived growth factor BB-induced ERK2 activation. In contrast, DPI only inhibited agonist-induced p38 MAP kinase activation and c-Fos and JunB expression. Antibody supershift assays indicated the presence of c-Fos and JunB in the AP-1 complex formed in response to all three agonists. In addition, cotransfection of VSMC with expression plasmids for c-Fos and members of the Jun family along with the AP-1-dependent reporter gene revealed that AP-1 with c-Fos and JunB composition exhibited a higher transactivating activity than AP-1 with other compositions tested. All three agonists significantly stimulated reactive oxygen species production, and this effect was inhibited by both NAC and DPI. Together, these results strongly suggest a role for redox-sensitive mechanisms in agonist-induced ERK2, JNK1, and p38 MAP kinase activation; c-Fos, c-Jun, and JunB expression; AP-1 activity; and DNA synthesis in VSMC. These results also suggest a role for NADH/NADPH oxidase activity in some subset of early signaling events such as p38 MAP kinase activation and c-Fos and JunB induction, which appear to be important in agonist-induced AP-1 activity and DNA synthesis in VSMC.