Enhanced actions or levels of endothelin-1 (ET-1), a potent vasoconstrictor, have been associated with decreased blood flow in the retina and peripheral nerves of diabetic animals and may be related to the development of pathologies in these tissues. Hyperglycemia has been postulated to increase ET-1 secretion in endothelial cells. We have characterized the mechanism by which elevation of glucose is increasing ET-1 mRNA expression in capillary bovine retinal endothelial cells (BREC) and bovine retinal pericytes (BRPC). Elevation of glucose, but not mannitol, from 5.5 to 25 mmol/l for 3 days increased membranous protein kinase C (PKC) activities and ET-1 mRNA in parallel levels by 2-fold in BREC and BRPC. These effects were reversed by decreasing glucose levels to 5.5 mmol/l for an additional 2 days. Glucose-induced ET-1 overexpression was inhibited by a general PKC inhibitor, GF109203X, and a mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase inhibitor, PD98059, but not by wortmannin, a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor. By immunoblot analysis, PKC-beta2 and -delta isoforms in BREC were significantly increased relative to other isoforms in the membranous fractions when glucose level was increased. Overexpression of PKC-beta1 and -delta isoforms but not PKC-zeta isoform by adenovirus vectors containing the respective cDNA enhanced in parallel PKC activities, proteins, and basal and glucose-induced ET-1 mRNA expression by at least 2-fold. These results showed that enhanced ET-1 expression induced by hyperglycemia in diabetes is partly due to activation of PKC-beta and -delta isoforms, suggesting that inhibition of these PKC isoforms may prevent early changes in diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy.