Prostaglandins are considered to play important roles in gastric mucosal protection. The rate-limiting enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of prostaglandins is cyclooxygenase (COX), also known as prostaglandin H synthase. Two forms of COX are known: a constitutively expressed form (COX-1) and a newly-characterized, inducible form (COX-2). In the present study, the immunocytochemical localization of COX-1 and COX-2 was examined in the rat gastrointestinal tract. A strong immunoreactivity for COX-1 was localized in the mucous neck cells of gastric gland. A weak reactivity for COX-1 was also found in the mucous cell types in the cardiac gland and pyloric gland of the stomach as well as in the Brunner's gland of duodenum. Ultrastructurally, the immunoreactivity was localized to the apical cytoplasm of these cells. On the other hand, immunoreactivity for COX-2 was distributed in the surface mucous cells in both the fundic and pyloric regions of stomach. These results suggest that a subset of mucous cells is the primary site for production of prostaglandins in the rat gastrointestinal tract, and that two forms of COX are expressed in distinct types of mucous cell.