Prostaglandin (PG) release, which is increased in vivo by inflammatory conditions and in vitro by pro-inflammatory cytokines, is decreased by glucocorticoids. Two phospholipase A2 isoforms, secretory (sPLA2) and cytosolic (cPLA2,), have been implicated in inflammation. These enzymes catalyse the release of arachidonic acid which is then converted to prostaglandins by the cyclooxygenases (COX-1 and COX-2). Regulation of these events at the mRNA level is poorly characterised in epithelial cells. We have used a human epithelial-like cell line (A549) as a model system to study mRNA expression of sPLA2, cPLA2, COX-1 and COX-2. Following treatment of cells and extraction of RNA, semi-quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was used to examine expression of these genes. We show a coordinate induction of both cPLA2 and COX-2 mRNA by pro-inflammatory cytokines which correlated with increased PGE2 release. By contrast, sPLA2 mRNA was undetectable and COX-1 was found to be expressed at a constant low level. In addition dexamethasone pretreatment significantly reduced both cPLA2 and COX-2 mRNA levels as well as PGE2 release following cytokine stimulation. These data indicate a major role for control of prostaglandin synthesis at the mRNA level of key synthetic genes in epithelial cells. Furthermore we show that a major mechanism of glucocorticoid action in preventing prostaglandin release occurs by suppression of cPLA2 and COX-2 mRNA levels.