Unaccustomed strenuous exercise that includes lengthening contraction (LC) often causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), characterised as muscular mechanical hyperalgesia. Previously we reported that a bradykinin-like substance released from the muscle during exercise plays a pivotal role in triggering the process of muscular mechanical hyperalgesia by upregulating nerve growth factor (NGF) in exercised muscle of rats. We show here that cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) are also involved in DOMS. COX-2 inhibitors but not COX-1 inhibitors given orally before LC completely suppressed the development of DOMS, but when given 2 days after LC they failed to reverse the mechanical hyperalgesia. COX-2 mRNA and protein in exercised muscle increased six- to 13-fold in mRNA and 1.7-2-fold in protein 0-12 h after LC. COX-2 inhibitors did not suppress NGF upregulation after LC. Instead, we found GDNF mRNA was upregulated seven- to eight-fold in the exercised muscle 12 h-1 day after LC and blocked by pretreatment of COX-2 inhibitors. In situ hybridisation studies revealed that both COX-2 and GDNF mRNA signals increased at the periphery of skeletal muscle cells 12 h after LC. The accumulation of COX-2 mRNA signals was also observed in small blood vessels. Intramuscular injection of anti-GDNF antibody 2 days after LC partly reversed DOMS. Based on these findings, we conclude that GDNF upregulation through COX-2 activation is essential to mechanical hyperalgesia after exercise.