Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) has been shown to induce the expression of adhesion molecules in airway resident cells and contribute to inflammatory responses. Here, the roles of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and NF-kappaB in TNF-alpha-induced expression of vascular cell adhesion molecule (VCAM)-1 were investigated in human tracheal smooth muscle cells (HTSMCs). TNF-alpha-enhanced expression of VCAM-1 protein and mRNA as well as phosphorylation of p42/p44 MAPK, p38, and JNK were significantly attenuated by inhibitors of MEK1/2 (U0126), p38 (SB202190), and JNK (SP600125). Transfection with dominant negative mutants of MEK1/2, ERK1, ERK2, p38, and JNK attenuated TNF-alpha-induced VCAM-1 expression. Furthermore, TNF-alpha-induced VCAM-1 expression was significantly blocked by a selective NF-kappaB inhibitor helenalin. TNF-alpha-stimulated translocation of NF-kappaB into the nucleus and degradation of IkappaB-alpha was blocked by helenalin, but not by U0126, SB202190, or SP600125. VCAM-1 promoter activity was enhanced by TNF-alpha in HTSMCs transfected with VCAM-1-Luc, which was inhibited by helenalin, U0126, SB202190, and SP600125. Most surprisingly, VCAM-1 expression was also significantly blocked by a selective inhibitor of p300, curcumin. NF-kappaB transcription factor and p300 were associated with the VCAM-1 promoter, which was dynamically linked to histone H3 acetylation stimulated by TNF-alpha, as determined by chromatin immunoprecipitation assay. Moreover, the resultant enhancement of VCAM-1 expression increased the adhesion of polymorphonuclear cells (PMNs) to monolayer of HTSMCs, which was blocked by helenalin, U0126, SB202190, or SP600125. These results suggest that in HTSMCs, activation of MAPK pathways, NF-kappaB, and p300 is essential for TNF-alpha-induced VCAM-1 expression.