Increased expression of the glucose transporter GLUT1 in mesangial cells (MCs) markedly stimulates glucose transport and the formation of extracellular matrix (ECM), even when ambient glucose concentrations are low. Certain antihyperglycemic agents cause GLUT1 overexpression and increase glucose transport in various tissues. However, their effects on the kidney are unknown. Because diabetic glomerulosclerosis is characterized by the accumulation of mesangial matrix, was studied the effects of antihyperglycemic agents on matrix metabolism in MCs cultured either in 8 or 20 mM glucose. Membrane-associated GLUT1 was measured by immunoblotting. The initial rate of glucose transport was determined according to the 2-deoxy-D[14C(U)]glucose uptake. Collagen metabolism was studied by metabolic radiolabeling with [14C]-proline. Fibronectin in the medium was measured by ELISA. GLUT1 mRNA was estimated by Northern analysis. The sulfonylurea tolazamide increased GLUT1 protein expression by 107 and 69% in 8 and 20 mM glucose-grown cells, respectively. However, GLUT1 mRNA levels remained unchanged. Transporter-dependent deoxyglucose uptake was increased by tolazamide up to 184% in a dose-dependent fashion and was evident at both glucose concentrations after three or five days of exposure to the drug. Tolazamide significantly stimulated transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) secretion and the total synthesis of collagen and collagen and fibronectin accumulation in the medium of MCs maintained in high or low glucose concentrations. The biguanide metformin did not alter GLUT1 expression, glucose transport, fibronectin formation, or collagen metabolism, except at high concentrations. Tolazamide markedly enhances ECM synthesis and accumulation in MCs probably by stimulating GLUT1 expression, glucose transport and TGF-beta 1 secretion, irrespective of the ambient glucose concentration. This effect was dose-dependent and minimally inducible by metformin.