We have utilized the baculovirus expression system to develop an in vitro intact cell assay for screening nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) inhibition of the two isozymes of human cyclooxygenase (prostaglandin endoperoxidase synthase, EC 188.8.131.52). Infected Spodoptera frugiperda (sf9) cells expressing either human cyclooxygenase-1 (hCOX-1) or human cyclooxygenase-2 (hCOX-2) were harvested 24 hr postinfection, a time point where all cells are viable and hCOX-1 or hCOX-2 are correctly processed. Cells were distributed to a 96-well plate, preincubated with various NSAIDs, and challenged with 10 microM arachidonic acid; then cyclooxygenase activity was assessed indirectly by prostaglandin E2-specific radioimmunoassay. The rank order of potency of NSAID-mediated inhibitions of hCOX-1 and hCOX-2 paralleled those that have been observed in other cell systems. This sf9 cell-based assay can be utilized for the identification of potent and selective inhibitors of hCOX-1 and/or hCOX-2. Compounds that preferentially inhibit hCOX-2 may provide novel NSAIDs that reduce inflammation while sparing the stomach and kidneys of toxic side-effects seen with current nonselective NSAIDs.