The cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme catalyzes the rate-limiting step of prostaglandin formation in inflammatory states, and COX-2 overexpression plays a key role in carcinogenesis. To understand the mechanisms regulating COX-2 expression, we examined its posttranscriptional regulation mediated through the AU-rich element (ARE) within the COX-2 mRNA 3'-untranslated region (3'UTR). RNA binding studies, performed to identify ARE-binding regulatory factors, demonstrated binding of the translational repressor protein TIA-1 to COX-2 mRNA. The significance of TIA-1-mediated regulation of COX-2 expression was observed in TIA-1 null fibroblasts that produced significantly more COX-2 protein than wild-type fibroblasts. However, TIA-1 deficiency did not alter COX-2 transcription or mRNA turnover. Colon cancer cells demonstrated to overexpress COX-2 through increased polysome association with COX-2 mRNA also showed defective TIA-1 binding both in vitro and in vivo. These findings implicate that TIA-1 functions as a translational silencer of COX-2 expression and support the hypothesis that dysregulated RNA-binding of TIA-1 promotes COX-2 expression in neoplasia.