Statins block de novo synthesis of cholesterol by inhibiting the enzyme, HMG CoA reductase. The product of this reaction, mevalonic acid, is also a precursor of isoprenoids, molecules required for the activation of signalling G-proteins, such as Ras. Signal transduction pathways involving Ras are important for cell survival and this may be why statins induce apoptotic death of several cell types. Given that statins are used to treat vascular disease, it is surprising that no studies have been conducted on vascular endothelial cells. For this reason, we have tested the effect of fluvastatin (FS) on the endothelial cell line EA.hy 926. Here we show that FS, at concentrations from 1 to 2 microM, blocks growth and induces apoptosis of the endothelial cell line, EA.hy 926. As considerable redundancy exists in cell signalling pathways for cell survival, toxicity of FS under more physiological conditions might be prevented by pathways that do not require Ras, such as those activated by adrenal or sex steroids. To test this hypothesis, first RT-PCR analysis was performed for nuclear receptor mRNA expression. This revealed the presence of mRNA for the androgen receptor (AR) and glucocorticoid receptor (GR). The effect of the AR agonist, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and the GR agonist, dexamethasone (Dex), was then tested. Whilst DHT (100 nM) had no effect on FS-induced cell death, Dex (1 microM) blocked FS-induced apoptosis. Cell cycle analysis revealed that 24 h exposure to FS prevented cells from leaving G(1) and 24-48 h later a marked sub-G(1) peak was observed. Dex was able to reduce the sub-G(1) peak, but it failed to reduce accumulation of cells in G(1). Further studies revealed that, in addition to blocking FS-induced apoptosis, Dex was able to block apoptosis of EA.hy 926 cells induced by serum deprivation, tumour necrosis factor-alpha, oxidants, DNA damage and mitochondrial disruption. This study strongly suggests that glucocorticoids have a role to play in preventing vascular injury and they may provide a reason why statins are apparently not toxic to vascular endothelial cells in vivo.