An elevated extracellular concentration of D-glucose (i.e. hyperglycaemia) inhibits cell proliferation and incorporation of the endogenous nucleoside thymidine into DNA in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Cells in their log-phase of growth (3.7 ± 0.3 days, n = 27) incubated for 30 min with 25 mM D-glucose, but not with equimolar concentrations of L-glucose or D-mannitol, exhibited reduced [3H]thymidine incorporation and cell growth rate, with no change in cell viability (> 98 %), total DNA, protein content or cell volume. Incubation with D-glucose activated protein kinase C (PKC), endothelial NO synthase (eNOS), p42 and p44 mitogen-activated protein kinases (p42/44mapk), but inhibited superoxide dismutase (SOD). Incubation with D-glucose also increased cGMP and cAMP levels. The effect of D-glucose was blocked by the PKC inhibitor calphostin C, the MAP kinase kinase 1/2 (MEK1/2) inhibitor PD-98059, the eNOS inhibitor L-NAME, the protein kinase G (PKG) inhibitor KT-5823 and the protein kinase A (PKA) inhibitor KT-5720. In the presence of 5 mM D-glucose, [3H]thymidine incorporation and cell growth were reduced by the PKC activator phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), the NO donor S-nitroso-N-acetyl-L,D-penicillamine (SNAP), dibutyryl cGMP, dibutyryl cAMP and the Ca2+ ionophore A-23187. The effect of A-23187 was blocked by calphostin C and PD-98059. D-Glucose-dependent inhibition of thymidine incorporation and cell proliferation is associated with increased PKC, eNOS, and MEK1/2, but decreased SOD activity, and higher intracellular levels of cGMP, cAMP and Ca2+ in HUVECs. These are cellular mechanisms which may reduce endothelial cell growth in pathological conditions such as in diabetes mellitus or hyperglycaemia. Experimental Physiology (2003) 88.2, 209-219.