C19 steroids are converted to estrogens by aromatase P450 (P450arom). Aromatase expression in humans is regulated by use of tissue-specific promoters in the placenta (promoter I.1), adipose tissue (promoters I.4, I.3, and II), and gonads (promoter II). The use of each promoter gives rise to a population of P450arom messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) species with a unique untranslated 5'-terminus. Aromatase is not expressed in the endometrium of disease-free women. We demonstrated, however, the presence of P450arom mRNA in pelvic endometriotic implants and eutopic endometrial curettings of women with endometriosis. In the current report, aromatase activity and P450arom gene expression were investigated in cultured stromal cells derived from eutopic endometrium and ovarian endometriomas of women with pelvic endometriosis. We also investigated the hormonal regulation of aromatase expression and alternative promoter use in these cells. The effects of interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), IL-2, IL-6, IL-11, oncostatin M, IL-15, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, PGE2, estradiol, R5020, dexamethasone, and dibutyryl cAMP (Bt2cAMP) on aromatase activity in endometriosis-derived stromal cells were assessed. We chose treatments with PGs and ILs because of the inflammatory nature of endometriosis. PGE2 stimulated aromatase activity in endometriosis-derived stromal cells by 19- to 44-fold (37-221 pmol/mg protein-4 h), whereas Bt2cAMP induction was 26- to 60-fold the baseline level. No stimulation was observed by estradiol or R5020 or by IL-1 beta, IL-2, IL-6, IL-11, IL-15, or TNF alpha in the presence or absence of glucocorticoids. A modest induction of aromatase activity (2-fold) was observed in dexamethasone- plus oncostatin M-treated cells. These changes in aromatase activity were accompanied by comparable changes in the levels of P450arom mRNA levels, determined by a quantitative reverse transcription-PCR method. Promoter-specific 5'-ends of P450arom transcripts in total RNA from endometriosis-derived stromal cells treated with PGE2 and Bt2cAMP were amplified employing a novel modified rapid amplification of cDNA5'-ends/Southern hybridization method using exon-specific oligonucleotide probes. The majority of P450arom transcripts in these cells contained the gonadal-type promoter II-specific sequences, whereas very few transcripts contained adipose-type promoter I.3- and I.4-specific sequences. PGE2 appears to be the most potent known stimulator of aromatase in endometriosis. Aromatase expression in PGE2-stimulated stromal cells of endometriosis is regulated primarily by the classically located promoter II, which, in turn, is regulated by cAMP. As PGE2 is known to increase intracellular cAMP levels, estrogen biosynthesis in endometriosis may be primarily regulated by PGE2 that is locally produced. Consequent local estrogen production may promote the growth of endometriotic implants.