Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, marked by high blood glucose levels and no insulin secretion, is associated with decreased bone mass and increased fracture rates. Analysis of bone histology suggests that osteoblast phenotype and function are influenced by diabetes. To determine if elevated extracellular glucose levels could directly influence osteoblast phenotype we treated mouse osteoblasts, MC3T3-E1 cells, with 22 mM glucose and analyzed osteoblast gene expression. Collagen I mRNA levels significantly increased while osteocalcin mRNA levels decreased 24 h after the addition of glucose. Expression of other genes, actin, osteopontin, and histone H4, was unaffected. Effects on collagen I expression were seen as early as I h after treatment, c-Jun, an AP-1 transcription factor involved in the regulation of osteoblast gene expression and growth, was also modulated by glucose. Specifically, an increase in c-jun expression was found at I h and maintained for 24 h following glucose treatment. Treatment of osteoblasts with an equal concentration of mannitol completely mimicked glucose treatment effects on collagen I and c-jun expression, demonstrating that osmotic stress rather than glucose metabolism is responsible for the effects on osteoblast gene expression and phenotype. Additional studies using staurosporine and Ro-31-8220 demonstrate that protein kinase C is required for the glucose up regulation of collagen I and c-jun. Taken together, our results demonstrate that osteoblasts respond to increasing extracellular glucose concentration through an osmotic response pathway that is dependent upon protein kinase C activity and results in upregulation of c-jun and modulation of collagen I and osteocalcin expression. J. Cell. Biochem. 79:301-310, 2000. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.