Recent studies have suggested that apoptosis is a key phenomenon in the chemopreventive action of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which exhibit cancer-preventive and tumor-regressive effects in the human colon. The effect of NS-398, N-(2-cyclohexyloxy-4-nitrophenyl)methanesulfonamide, which is a selective inhibitor of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), on the induction of apoptosis in two human colorectal cancer cell lines (Colo320 and THRC) was determined. The apoptotic ratios (-fold vs. control value) of Colo320 in the presence of 100 microM indomethacin and NS-398 were 3.3 +/- 1.5 and 9.0 +/- 0.94, and those of THRC were 2.3 +/- 0.46 and 7.4 +/- 0.87, respectively. The ability of NS-398 to induce apoptosis is greater than that of indomethacin. Both indomethacin and NS-398 reduced the cell proliferation in a concentration-dependent manner. The IC50 values of NS-398 (54.8 +/- 3.6 and 77.2 +/- 4.9 microM) were significantly lower than those of indomethacin (206.3 +/- 43.0 and 180.3 +/- 22.6 microM) at P < 0.01 in Colo320 and THRC cell lines, respectively. These findings suggest that NS-398, a selective inhibitor of COX-2, is a possible candidate for a chemopreventive agent with a potent apoptosis-inducing effect and low ulcerogenic activity.