Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in inflammatory and degenerative brain diseases

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2004 Sep;63(9):901-10. doi: 10.1093/jnen/63.9.901.


Cyclooxygenase (COX) catalyses the first committed step in the synthesis of prostanoids, a large family of arachidonic acid metabolites comprising prostaglandins, prostacyclin, and thromboxanes, and is a major target of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). COX exists as constitutive and inducible isoforms. COX-2 is the inducible isoform, rapidly expressed in several cell types in response to growth factors, cytokines, and pro-inflammatory molecules. Since its discovery in the early 1990s, COX-2 has emerged as a major player in inflammatory reactions in peripheral tissues. By extension, COX-2 expression in brain has been associated with pro-inflammatory activities, thought to be instrumental in neurodegenerative processes of several acute and chronic diseases. However, 2 major aspects should be borne in mind. First, in the central nervous system, COX-2 is expressed under normal conditions and contributes to fundamental brain functions, such as synaptic activity, memory consolidation, and functional hyperemia. Second, "neuroinflammation" is a much more controlled reaction than inflammation in peripheral tissues, and in many cases is triggered and sustained by activation of resident cells, particularly microglia. In spite of the intense research of the last decade, the evidence of a direct role of COX-2 in neurodegenerative events is still controversial. This article will review new data in this area, focusing on some major human neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Alzheimer disease. Furthermore, the emerging role of COX-2 in behavioral and cognitive functions will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Central Nervous System / cytology
  • Central Nervous System / enzymology*
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Eicosanoids / metabolism
  • Encephalitis / enzymology*
  • Encephalitis / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / enzymology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Eicosanoids
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Isoenzymes
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases