This study investigates the apoptotic activity of the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitor celecoxib in prostate carcinoma cells. COX-2 is constitutively expressed in androgen-responsive LNCaP and androgen- nonresponsive PC-3 cells. Exposure of these cells to celecoxib induces characteristic features of apoptosis, including morphological changes, DNA laddering, and caspase-3 activation, whereas piroxicam, a COX-1-specific inhibitor, displays no appreciable effect on either cancer cell line even after prolonged exposure. Moreover, the potency of celecoxib in apoptosis induction is significantly higher than that of other COX-2 inhibitors examined despite the observation that these inhibitors exhibit similar IC50 in COX-2 inhibition. It is noteworthy that normal human prostate epithelial cells, expressing a marginally detectable level of COX-2, are insensitive to the induction of apoptosis by celecoxib. These data suggest a correlation between COX-2 expression and sensitivity to the apoptotic effect of the COX-2 inhibitor. In an effort to delineate the underlying mechanism, we examined the effect of celecoxib on the expression of Bcl-2 as well as the activation of the key anti-apoptotic kinase Akt. In contrast to an earlier report that attributed the apoptotic activity of NS398 in LNCaP cells to Bcl-2 down- regulation, we provide evidence that the induction of apoptosis by celecoxib in LNCaP and PC-3 cells is independent of Bcl-2. First, treatment with celecoxib does not alter the cellular Bcl-2 level in both cell lines. Second, enforced Bcl-2 expression in PC-3 cells does not confer protection against the induction of apoptosis by celecoxib. Our data show that celecoxib treatment blocks the phosphorylation of Akt. This correlation is supported by studies showing that overexpression of constitutively active Akt protects PC- 3 cells from celecoxib-induced apoptosis. Nevertheless, how celecoxib down- regulates Akt is not clear because the drug does not adversely affect phosphoinositide 3-kinase activity in vivo and okadaic acid, a protein phosphatase 2A inhibitor, cannot rescue the inhibition. In summary, our data demonstrate that inhibition of Akt activation may play a crucial role in the induction of apoptosis by celecoxib.