Brain energy metabolism essentially depends on the availability of oxygen representing the energetic substrate for cytochrome c oxidase (COX). The catalytic activity of mammalian COX is regulated by binding of ATP to the N-terminus of subunit IV. This causes an allosteric inhibition of the enzyme at a high energy level and thus plays an important role in adjusting energy production to cellular energy requirements. We have studied COX activity in cortical astrocytes and cerebellar granule cells after normoxia and hypoxia treatment. Differences in the kinetic behaviour of COX from these two brain cell types can be addressed to a differential, but cell type-specific, expression of the COX subunit IV-2 isoform. Besides COX isoform IV-1, which is ubiquitously transcribed in all mammalian tissues, we also detected low levels of COX isoform IV-2 in cerebellar neurons, but not in cortical astrocytes. Under conditions of oxygen deprivation, transcription of COX IV-2 is induced in astrocytes and further up-regulated in cerebellar granule cells. Elevated transcription levels of the COX IV-2 isoform are accompanied by an abolition of the allosteric inhibition of COX by ATP. We conclude that the presence of the COX isoform IV-2 suppresses the sensitivity of COX to its allosteric regulator ATP and overrules the regulation of COX by the cellular energy level. This suggests a pivotal role of COX as an oxygen sensor for brain function.