1. Effects of the cyclo-oxygenase (COX)-1 inhibitor SC-560 and the COX-2 inhibitors rofecoxib and DFU were investigated in the normal stomach and after acid challenge. 2. In healthy rats, neither SC-560 nor rofecoxib (20 mg kg(-1) each) given alone damaged the mucosa. Co-treatment with SC-560 and rofecoxib, however, induced severe lesions comparable to indomethacin (20 mg kg(-1)) whereas co-administration of SC-560 and DFU (20 mg kg(-1) each) had no comparable ulcerogenic effect 5 h after dosing. 3. SC-560 (20 mg kg(-1)) inhibited gastric 6-keto-prostaglandin (PG) F(1alpha) by 86+/-5% and platelet thromboxane (TX) B(2) formation by 89+/-4% comparable to indomethacin (20 mg kg(-1)). Rofecoxib (20 mg kg(-1)) did not inhibit gastric and platelet eicosanoids. 4. Intragastric HCl elevated mucosal mRNA levels of COX-2 but not COX-1. Dexamethasone (2 mg kg(-1)) prevented the up-regulation of COX-2. 5. After acid challenge, SC-560 (5 and 20 mg kg(-1)) induced dose-dependent injury. Rofecoxib (20 mg kg(-1)), DFU (5 mg kg(-1)) and dexamethasone (2 mg kg(-1)) given alone were not ulcerogenic but aggravated SC-560-induced damage. DFU augmented SC-560 damage 1 but not 5 h after administration whereas rofecoxib increased injury after both treatment periods suggesting different time courses. 6. Gastric injurious effects of rofecoxib and DFU correlated with inhibition of inflammatory PGE(2). 7. The findings show that in the normal stomach lesions only develop when both COX-1 and COX-2 are inhibited. In contrast, during acid challenge inhibition of COX-1 renders the mucosa more vulnerable suggesting an important role of COX-1 in mucosal defence in the presence of a potentially noxious agent. In this function COX-1 is supported by COX-2. In the face of pending injury, however, COX-2 cannot maintain mucosal integrity when the activity of COX-1 is suppressed.