Cannabinoids have been implicated in the reduction of glioma growth. The present study investigated a possible relationship between the recently shown induction of cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 expression by the endocannabinoid analog R(+)methanandamide [R(+)-MA] and its effect on the viability of H4 human neuroglioma cells. Incubation with R(+)-MA for up to 72 h decreased the cellular viability and enhanced accumulation of cytoplasmic DNA fragments in a time-dependent manner. Suppression of R(+)-MA-induced prostaglandin (PG) E2 synthesis with the selective COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib (0.01-1 microM) or inhibition of COX-2 expression by COX-2-silencing small-interfering RNA was accompanied by inhibition of R(+)-MA-mediated DNA fragmentation and cell death. In contrast, the selective COX-1 inhibitor SC-560 was inactive in this respect. Cells were also protected from apoptotic cell death by other COX-2 inhibitors (NS-398 [[N-[2-(cyclohexyloxy)-4-nitrophenyl]-methanesulfonamide]] and diclofenac) and by the ceramide synthase inhibitor fumonisin B1, which interferes with COX-2 expression by R(+)-MA. Moreover, the proapoptotic action of R(+)-MA was mimicked by the major COX-2 product PGE2. Apoptosis and cell death by R(+)-MA were not affected by antagonists of cannabinoid receptors (CB1, CB2) and vanilloid receptor 1. In further experiments, celecoxib was demonstrated to suppress apoptotic cell death elicited by anandamide, which is structurally similar to R(+)-MA. As a whole, this study defines COX-2 as a hitherto unknown target by which a cannabinoid induces apoptotic death of glioma cells. Furthermore, our data show that pharmacological concentrations of celecoxib may interfere with the proapoptotic action of R(+)-MA and anandamide, suggesting that cotreatment with COX-2 inhibitors could diminish glioma regression induced by these compounds.