The modifying effects of a cyclooxygenase (cox)-2 selective inhibitor nimesulide on tongue carcinogenesis were investigated in male F344 rats initiated with 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide (4-NQO). The cell proliferation activity measured by proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA)-positive index and apoptotic index, and the immunohistochemical expression of COX-2, and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) in the tongue mucosa or neoplasms were also examined for mechanistic analysis of modifying effects of nimesulide on tongue carcinogenesis. All animals except those treated with nimesulide alone and untreated rats were given 20 ppm 4-NQO in drinking water for 8 weeks to induce tongue neoplasms. Starting 1 week after the cessation of 4-NQO exposure, rats given 4-NQO were fed the experimental diets containing nimesulide (100 and 400 ppm) for 22 weeks. At week 32, the incidence of tongue squamous cell carcinoma was significantly reduced by feeding of the diet containing 400 ppm nimesulide. Feeding of nimesulide significantly decreased polyamine content and PCNA-labeling index in tongue carcinoma. Apoptotic index in tongue carcinoma was increased by feeding of nimesulide. In addition, nimesulide feeding reduced COX-2 and iNOS expression in the tongue dysplasia and neoplasms. These results suggest that 400 ppm nimesulide in diet, when given during the promotion phase, exerts chemopreventive ability against 4-NQO-induced tongue tumorigenesis through inhibition of cell proliferation activity in conjunction with modification of COX-2 and iNOS expression of the target lesions.