Corticosteroids increase the production of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and the activity of prostaglandin endoperoxide H synthase (PGHS) in cultured amnion cells, although they inhibit prostanoid biosynthesis in numerous other cell types. This suggests that glucocorticoids control the level of PGHS in amnion cells by a hitherto unexplored, positive regulatory mechanism. We have tested the possibility that corticosteroids act by stimulating the expression of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) encoding one or both isoforms of PGHS. Ribonuclease protection assays were used to determine the levels of PGHS-1 and -2 mRNAs and, for reference, gamma-actin mRNA levels in confluent primary cultures of human amnion cells. In untreated cultures, PGHS-1 and -2 mRNA levels were low, often not reaching the level of detection. Dexamethasone (DEX) treatment for 4 h resulted in a measurable level of PGHS-2 mRNA, which increased further 10-fold and 20-fold after incubation with the glucocorticoid for 8 h and 16 h, respectively. The stimulation was dependent on DEX concentration, and was concomitant with an increase in the capacity of the cells to metabolize arachidonic acid to PGE2. PGHS-1 mRNA levels remained low in DEX-treated cells, while the gamma-actin message level showed no change. Estradiol and progesterone had no influence on PGHS-2 mRNA expression, but cortisol increased the PGHS-2 mRNA abundance. The glucocorticoid antagonist RU486 blocked the effect of DEX. Conditioned media of DEX-treated cells did not contain steroid-induced factor(s) stimulating PGE2 production. Inhibition of protein synthesis by cycloheximide potentiated the effect of DEX, and raised the abundance of PGHS-1, PGHS-2, and gamma-actin mRNAs in untreated cells. DEX did not affect the stability of the PGHS-2 mRNA. These results show that glucocorticoids promote PGE2 synthesis by amnion cells by stimulating the expression of PGHS-2 mRNA in a receptor-dependent, selective, and immediate fashion.