Proteoglycans are associated with the initiation of atherosclerosis due to their binding of apolipoproteins on lipid particles leading to retention in the vessel wall. The signaling pathways through which growth factors regulate the synthesis and structure of proteoglycans are potential therapeutic targets. Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) is present in atherosclerotic plaques and activates phosphorylation of the serine/threonine kinase Akt. We have investigated the role of Akt in the signaling pathways for proteoglycan core protein expression and elongation of glycosaminoglycan chains on proteoglycans secreted by human vascular smooth muscle cells. The pharmacological inhibitor of Akt phosphorylation, SN30978, blocked PDGF stimulated phosphorylation of Akt. SN30978 caused concentration dependent inhibition of PDGF stimulated radiosulfate incorporation into secreted proteoglycans and the response was blocked by the PDGF receptor antagonists Ki11502 and imatinib. Analysis of the size of the biglycan molecules by SDS-PAGE showed that PDGF increased the apparent size of biglycan but this effect on glycosaminoglycan chain elongation was blocked by Ki11502 but not by SN30978. PDGF also stimulated total protein core protein synthesis assessed as 35S-methionine/cysteine incorporation and specifically the expression of versican mRNA. Both of these responses were blocked by SN30978. This data shows that PDGF-stimulated proteoglycan core protein synthesis but not glycosaminoglycan chain elongation is mediated via Akt phosphorylation. These data identify potential pathways for the development of agents which can pharmacologically regulate individual components of the synthesis of proteoglycans.