1. DFU (5,5-dimethyl-3-(3-fluorophenyl)-4-(4-methylsulphonyl)phenyl-2(5H)-furan one) was identified as a novel orally active and highly selective cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitor. 2. In CHO cells stably transfected with human COX isozymes, DFU inhibited the arachidonic acid-dependent production of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) with at least a 1,000 fold selectivity for COX-2 (IC50 = 41 +/- 14 nM) over COX-1 (IC50 > 50 microM). Indomethacin was a potent inhibitor of both COX-1 (IC50 = 18 +/- 3 nM) and COX-2 (IC50 = 26 +/- 6 nM) under the same assay conditions. The large increase in selectivity of DFU over indomethacin was also observed in COX-1 mediated production of thromboxane B2 (TXB2) by Ca2+ ionophore-challenged human platelets (IC50 > 50 microM and 4.1 +/- 1.7 nM, respectively). 3. DFU caused a time-dependent inhibition of purified recombinant human COX-2 with a Ki, value of 140 +/- 68 microM for the initial reversible binding to enzyme and a kappa 2 value of 0.11 +/- 0.06 s-1 for the first order rate constant for formation of a tightly bound enzyme-inhibitor complex. Comparable values of 62 +/- 26 microM and 0.06 +/- 0.01 s-1, respectively, were obtained for indomethacin. The enzyme-inhibitor complex was found to have a 1:1 stoichiometry and to dissociate only very slowly (t1/2 = 1-3 h) with recovery of intact inhibitor and active enzyme. The time-dependent inhibition by DFU was decreased by co-incubation with arachidonic acid under non-turnover conditions, consistent with reversible competitive inhibition at the COX active site. 4. Inhibition of purified recombinant human COX-1 by DFU was very weak and observed only at low concentrations of substrate (IC50 = 63 +/- 5 microM at 0.1 microM arachidonic acid). In contrast to COX-2, inhibition was time-independent and rapidly reversible. These data are consistent with a reversible competitive inhibition of COX-1. 5. DFU inhibited lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced PGE2 production (COX-2) in a human whole blood assay with a potency (IC50 = 0.28 +/- 0.04 microM) similar to indomethacin (IC50 = 0.68 +/- 0.17 microM). In contrast, DFU was at least 500 times less potent (IC50 > 97 microM) than indomethacin at inhibiting coagulation-induced TXB2 production (COX-1) (IC50 = 0.19 +/- 0.02 microM). 6. In a sensitive assay with U937 cell microsomes at a low arachidonic acid concentration (0.1 microM), DFU inhibited COX-1 with an IC50 value of 13 +/- 2 microM as compared to 20 +/- 1 nM for indomethacin. CGP 28238, etodolac and SC-58125 were about 10 times more potent inhibitors of COX-1 than DFU. The order of potency of various inhibitors was diclofenac > indomethacin approximately naproxen > nimesulide approximately meloxicam approximately piroxicam > NS-398 approximately SC-57666 > SC-58125 > CGP 28238 approximately etodolac > L-745,337 > DFU. 7. DFU inhibited dose-dependently both the carrageenan-induced rat paw oedema (ED50 of 1.1 mg kg-1 vs 2.0 mg kg-1 for indomethacin) and hyperalgesia (ED50 of 0.95 mg kg-1 vs 1.5 mg kg-1 for indomethacin). The compound was also effective at reversing LPS-induced pyrexia in rats (ED50 = 0.76 mg kg-1 vs 1.1 mg kg-1 for indomethacin). 8. In a sensitive model in which 51Cr faecal excretion was used to assess the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract in rats, no significant effect was detected after oral administration of DFU (100 mg kg-1, b.i.d.) for 5 days, whereas chromium leakage was observed with lower doses of diclofenac (3 mg kg-1), meloxicam (3 mg kg-1) or etodolac (10-30 mg kg-1). A 5 day administration of DFU in squirrel monkeys (100 mg kg-1) did not affect chromium leakage in contrast to diclofenac (1 mg kg-1) or naproxen (5 mg kg-1). 9. The results indicate that COX-1 inhibitory effects can be detected for all selective COX-2 inhibitors tested by use of a sensitive assay at low substrate concentration. The novel inhibitor DFU shows the lowest inhibitory potency against COX-1, a consistent high selectivity of inhibition of COX-2 over COX-1 (>300 fold) with enzyme, whole cell and whole blood assays, with no detectable loss of integrity of the gastrointestinal tract at doses >200 fold higher than efficacious doses in models of inflammation, pyresis and hyperalgesia. These results provide further evidence that prostanoids derived from COX-1 activity are not important in acute inflammatory responses and that a high therapeutic index of anti-inflammatory effect to gastropathy can be achieved with a selective COX-2 inhibitor.