Glucosamine represents one of the most commonly used drugs to treat osteoarthritis. However, mechanisms of its antiarthritic activities are still poorly understood. The present study identifies a novel mechanism of glucosamine-mediated anti-inflammatory activity. It is shown that both glucosamine and N-acetylglucosamine inhibit IL-1beta- and TNF-alpha-induced NO production in normal human articular chondrocytes. The effect of the sugars on NO production is specific, since several other monosaccharides, including glucose, glucuronic acid, and N-acetylmannosamine, do not express this activity. Furthermore, N-acetylglucosamine polymers, including the dimer and the trimer, also do not affect NO production. The observed suppression of IL-1beta-induced NO production is associated with inhibition of inducible NO synthase mRNA and protein expression. In addition, N-acetylglucosamine also suppresses the production of IL-1beta-induced cyclooxygenase-2 and IL-6. The constitutively expressed cyclooxygenase-1, however, was not affected by the sugar. N-acetylglucosamine-mediated inhibition of the IL-1beta response of human chondrocytes was not associated with the decreased inhibition of the mitogen-activated protein kinases c-Jun N-terminal kinase, extracellular signal-related kinase, and p38, nor with activation of the transcription factor NF-kappaB. In conclusion, these results demonstrate that N-acetylglucosamine expresses a unique range of activities and identifies a novel mechanism for the inhibition of inflammatory processes.