Regulation of cyclooxygenase expression was studied in homogenous preparations of epithelial cells isolated from sheep tracheal mucosa. Cellular capacity to generate cyclooxygenase-derived arachidonate metabolites (predominantly prostaglandin E2) increased markedly in cultured compared to freshly isolated cells. A 70 kDa cyclooxygenase protein and corresponding 2.8 kb mRNA were coordinately expressed but their levels did not increase proportionately to the increase in cyclooxygenase activity. Rehybridization of Northern blots at lower stringency revealed the presence of a new tissue-specific 4.0 kb mRNA species exhibiting increased expression during cell culture. Hybridization of the 4.0 kb mRNA with two nonoverlapping cDNA probes at only low stringency conditions suggests that it is derived from a distinct gene. Its relatedness to cyclooxygenase and its increase in parallel with enzymatic activity further suggest that the larger mRNA may encode for a cyclooxygenase.