Prostaglandin (PG) E(2) is a potent inducer of cortical and trabecular bone formation in humans and animals. Although the bone anabolic action of PGE(2) is well documented, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that mediate this effect remain unclear. This study was undertaken to examine the effect of pharmacological inactivation of the prostanoid receptor EP(4), one of the PGE(2) receptors, on PGE(2)-induced bone formation in vivo. We first determined the ability of EP(4)A, an EP(4)-selective ligand, to act as an antagonist. PGE(2) increases intracellular cAMP and suppresses apoptosis in the RP-1 periosteal cell line. Both effects were reversed by EP(4)A, suggesting that EP(4)A acts as an EP(4) antagonist in the cells at concentrations consistent with its in vitro binding to EP(4). We then examined the effect of EP(4) on bone formation induced by PGE(2) in young rats. Five- to 6-week-old rats were treated with PGE(2) (6 mg/kg/day) in the presence or absence of EP(4)A (10 mg/kg/day) for 12 days. We found that treatment with EP(4)A suppresses the increase in trabecular bone volume induced by PGE(2). This effect is accompanied by a suppression of bone formation indices: serum osteocalcin, extent of labeled surface, and extent of trabecular number, suggesting that the reduction in bone volume is due most likely to decreased bone formation. The pharmacological evidence presented here provides strong support for the hypothesis that the bone anabolic effect of PGE(2) in rats is mediated by the EP(4) receptor.