The study objective was to characterize the AGS human gastric mucosal cell line as a model for estimating gastrointestinal toxicity of COX-inhibiting compounds. Rofecoxib, celecoxib, nimesulide, ibuprofen, indomethacin, aspirin, salicylic acid, naproxen and acetaminophen were tested for inhibition of COX-2-mediated prostaglandin E2 synthesis in A549 and AGS cells. The IC50 ratio AGS/A549 was calculated as an estimate of the therapeutic index (TI) for gastrointestinal toxicity. Calculated IC50 values of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in A549 cells were in excellent agreement with published values (r = 0.996; P < 0.005). Calcium ionophore induction of arachidonic acid release in AGS cells provided TI similar to those using platelets and A549 cells (r = 0.918; P < 0.01). The AGS/A549 model exhibited lower TI than the platelet/A549 model. Spearman ranking correlated clinical NSAID gastropathy with lower AGS TI values. The AGS cell line has excellent potential to serve as a model for assessing the gastrointestinal effects of COX-inhibiting compounds.