Neutral endopeptidase (NEP), a membrane-bound metallopeptidase enzyme that degrades neuropeptides, bradykinin, atrial natriuretic factor, enkephalins, and endothelin may regulate response to injury. We have previously demonstrated increased NEP localization and enzyme activity in diabetic wounds and skin compared with normal controls. We hypothesized that hyperlipidemia and hyperglycemia associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus may induce excessive NEP activity and thereby diminish normal response to injury. Human microvascular endothelial cells were treated with five different fatty acids (40 microM) with varying degrees of saturation, including oleic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, and linolenic acid and/or glucose (40 mM) for 48 h. The effect of the antioxidative agents vitamin E and C on NEP enzyme activation was determined by treating the cultured cells with alpha-tocopherol succinate and/or L-ascorbic acid. Cell membrane preparations were assayed for NEP activity by incubation with glutaryl-Ala-Ala-Phe-4-methoxy-beta naphthylamide to generate a fluorescent degradation product methoxy 2 naphthylamine. High glucose or fatty acid concentration upregulated NEP activity. The highest NEP activity was observed with combined elevated glucose, linoleic acid, and oleic acid (P < 0.05). Antioxidant vitamin E and C treatment significantly reduced NEP enzyme activity after fatty acid exposure (P < 0.05). Thus, hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus may increase endothelial cell NEP activity and thereby decrease early pro-inflammatory responses. The modulator effect of vitamin E and C on NEP membrane enzyme activity after exposure to fatty acid stimulation suggests that lipid oxidation may activate NEP.