Two isoenzymes of cyclooxygenase (COX), the key enzyme in prostaglandin (PG) biosynthesis, COX-1 and COX-2, have been identified. COX-1 was proposed to regulate physiological functions, COX-2 to mediate pathophysiological reactions such as inflammation. In particular, it was suggested that maintenance of gastric mucosal integrity relies exclusively on COX-1. Recently, it was shown that a selective COX-1 inhibitor does not damage the mucosa in the healthy rat stomach, although mucosal prostaglandin formation is near-maximally suppressed. However, concurrent treatment with a COX-1 and a COX-2 inhibitor induces severe gastric damage. This indicates that in normal mucosa both COX-1 and COX-2 have to be inhibited to evoke ulcerogenic effects. In the acid-challenged rat stomach inhibition of COX-1 alone is associated with dose-dependent injury which is aggravated by additional inhibition of COX-2 activity or prevention of acid-induced up-regulation of COX-2 expression by dexamethasone. After acid exposure, COX-2 inhibitors cause substantial gastric injury when nitric oxide formation is suppressed or afferent nerves are defunctionalized. Ischemia-reperfusion of the gastric artery increases levels of COX-2 but not COX-1 mRNA. COX-2 inhibitors or dexamethasone aggravate ischemia-reperfusion-induced mucosal damage up to 4-fold, an effect abolished by concurrent administration of 16,16-dimethyl-PGE2. Furthermore, the protective effects elicited by a mild irritant or intragastric peptone perfusion are antagonized by COX-2 inhibitors. Finally, COX-2 expression is increased in experimental ulcers. COX-2 inhibitors delay the healing of chronic gastric ulcers in experimental animals and decrease epithelial cell proliferation, angiogenesis and maturation of the granulation tissue to the same extent as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These observations indicate that, in contrast to the initial concept, COX-2 plays an important role in gastric mucosal defense.