Several studies indicate that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including indomethacin, aspirin, sulindac, and piroxicam reduce the risk of colon cancer. Furthermore, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that inhibit the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme were shown to inhibit the development of colon cancer in animal models of carcinogenesis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit the enzymatic activity of both the constitutive (COX-1) and inducible (COX-2) isoforms of COX enzyme. We have investigated the expression of COX-1 and COX-2 polypeptides in human colon cancer tissues using immunohistochemistry. Enhanced COX-2 expression was observed in colon cancer tissues from 15 subjects with clinically diagnosed colorectal cancer. Marked COX-2 expression was observed in cancer cells, inflammatory cells, vascular endothelium, and fibroblasts of the lesional tissues compared with the nonlesional and normal colon tissues. The extent and intensity of the immunoreactive COX-2 in cancer cells was much greater than that of the other cell types. In contrast, the expression of COX-1 polypeptide was weak in both normal and cancerous specimens. These data suggest that the enhanced expression of the COX-2 gene in colon cancer tissues may contribute to the enhanced synthesis of prostaglandin E2 by the colon cancer tissues. Enhanced expression of COX-2 may play a role in the pathogenesis of colon cancer. Furthermore, selective inhibition of COX-2 may prove to be more efficacious in the retardation of colon cancer development.

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This work was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for scientific research from the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture of Japan, by the Inamori Foundation, and by the Japan Rheumatism Foundation (H. S.) and NIH Grants HL 49094 and DK 45659 (T. H.).