Prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)) inhibits fibroblast proliferation and collagen production. Its synthesis by fibroblasts is induced by profibrotic mediators including transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta(1). However, in patients with pulmonary fibrosis, PGE(2) levels are decreased. In this study we examined the effect of TGF-beta(1) on PGE(2) synthesis, proliferation, collagen production, and cyclooxygenase (COX) mRNA levels in fibroblasts derived from fibrotic and nonfibrotic human lung. In addition, we examined the effect of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis in COX-2-deficient mice. We demonstrate that basal and TGF-beta(1)-induced PGE(2) synthesis is limited in fibroblasts from fibrotic lung. Functionally, this correlates with a loss of the anti-proliferative response to TGF-beta(1). This failure to induce PGE(2) synthesis is because of an inability to up-regulate COX-2 mRNA levels in these fibroblasts. Furthermore, mice deficient in COX-2 exhibit an enhanced response to bleomycin. We conclude that a decreased capacity to up-regulate COX-2 expression and COX-2-derived PGE(2) synthesis in the presence of increasing levels of profibrotic mediators such as TGF-beta(1) may lead to unopposed fibroblast proliferation and collagen synthesis and contribute to the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis.