An inducible form of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) has been shown to be upregulated in vitro by various pro-inflammatory agents, such as lipopolysaccharide, IL-1 and TNF, COX-2 appears to be responsible for the increase in prostaglandin synthesis at the site of inflammation. To examine the involvement of COX-2 in inflammation, we analysed the expression of this gene in human rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and in rat adjuvant-induced arthritis. Immunocytochemical studies of synovial membrane biopsies from human RA, osteoarthritic (OA) and normal joints using a COX-2 specific antibody showed positive staining in RA, but not in normal synovial membranes. Specifically, expression of COX-2 was detected in synovial lining cells, lymphoid aggregates and endothelial cells of blood vessels. Although some positive staining was observed in the OA joints, the number of stained cells was dramatically lower and the staining of the cells was less intense than in the rheumatoid tissue. By reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction analysis, COX-2 mRNA was detected in the rat adjuvant arthritic limb, whereas no COX-2 mRNA was detectable in the normal limb. These observations indicate that COX-2 expression is upregulated in inflammatory joint disease and that COX-2 is a potential therapeutic target for specific inhibition.