Prostaglandins play important and diverse roles in the CNS. The first step in prostaglandin synthesis involves enzymatic oxidation of arachidonic acid, which is catalyzed by prostaglandin H(PGH) synthase, also referred to as cyclooxygenase. We have cloned an inducible form of this enzyme from rat brain that is nearly identical to a murine, mitogen-inducible cyclooxygenase identified from fibroblasts. Our studies indicate that this gene, here termed COX-2, is expressed throughout the forebrain in discrete populations of neurons and is enriched in the cortex and hippocampus. Neuronal expression is rapidly and transiently induced by seizures or NMDA-dependent synaptic activity. No expression is detected in glia or vascular endothelial cells. Basal expression of COX-2 appears to be regulated by natural synaptic activity in the developing and adult brain. Both basal and induced expression of COX-2 are inhibited by glucocorticoids, consistent with COX-2 regulation in peripheral tissues. Our studies indicate that COX-2 expression may be important in regulating prostaglandin signaling in brain. The marked inducibility in neurons by synaptic stimuli suggests a role in activity-dependent plasticity.