Prostaglandins are formed from arachidonic acid by the action of cyclooxygenase and subsequent downstream synthetases. Two closely related forms of the cyclooxygenase have been identified which are now known as COX-1 and COX-2. Both isoenzymes transform arachidonic acid to prostaglandins, but differ in their distribution and their physiological roles. Meanwhile, the responsible genes and their regulation have been clarified. COX-1, the pre-dominantly constitutive form of the enzyme, is expressed throughout the body and performs a number of homeostatic functions such as maintaining normal gastric mucosa and influencing renal blood flow and platelet aggregation. In contrast, the inducible form is expressed in response to inflammatory and other physiological stimuli and growth factors, and is involved in the production of the prostaglandins that mediate pain and support the inflammatory process. All the classic NSAIDs inhibit both COX-1 and COX-2 at standard anti-inflammatory doses. The beneficial anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects are based on the inhibition of COX-2, but the gastrointestinal toxicity and the mild bleeding diathesis are a result of the concurrent inhibition of COX-1. Agents that inhibit COX-2 while sparing COX-1 represent a new attractive therapeutic development and could represent a major advance in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Apart from its involvement in inflammatory processes, COX-2 seems to play a role in angiogenesis, colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease, based on the fact that it is expressed during these diseases. The benefits of specific and selective COX-2 inhibitors are currently under discussion and offer a new perspective for a further use of COX-2 inhibitors.