Is COX-2 a perpetrator or a protector? Selective COX-2 inhibitors remain controversial

Cheng Luo, Ming-liang He, Lars Bohlin


Aim: COX-2(cyclooxygenase-2) has sparked a surge in pharmaceutical interest since its discovery at the beginning of the 1990s. Several COX-2 selective inhibitors that avoid gastrointestinal side effects have been successfully launched into the market in recent years. The first selective COX-2 inhibitor, celecoxib, entered the market in December 1999. However, there are a few organs that physiologically and functionally express COX-2, particularly the glomeruli of the kidney and the cortex of the brain. Inhibition of COX-2 expression in these organs possibly causes heart attack and stroke in long-term COX-2 inhibitor users. Recently, a USA Food and Drug Agency (FDA) advisory panel re-evaluated COX-2 inhibitors and unanimously concluded that the entire class of COX-2 inhibitors increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. Thus the use of COX-2 inhibitors is still controversial, and there is a challenge for not only pharmacologists, but also the pharmaceutical industry, to develop improved painkilling and anti-inflammatory drugs. This may involve exploring a new generation of COX-2 inhibitors with different inhibitory mechanisms through computer-aided design, screening different sources of inhibitors with lower selectivity, or seeking completely new targets. Synthetic COX-2 inhibitors have high selectivity and the advantage of irreversible inhibition, whereas naturally derived COX-2 inhibitors have lower selectivity and fewer side effects, with the medical effects in general not being as striking as those achieved using synthetic inhibitors. This review discusses the mechanism of COX-2 inhibitor therapy and a possible new way of exploration in the development of anti-inflammatory, analgetic, and antipyretic drugs.