Production of prostaglandins involved in renal salt and water homeostasis is modulated by regulated expression of the inducible form of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) at restricted sites in the rat renal cortex. Because inflammatory COX-2 is suppressed by glucocorticoids, and prostaglandin levels in the kidney are sensitive to steroids, the sensitivity of COX expression to adrenalectomy (ADX) was investigated. By 2 weeks after ADX in mature rats, cortical COX-2 immunoreactivity increased 10-fold in the cortical thick ascending limb and macula densa. The constitutive isoform, COX-1, was unchanged. The magnitude of the changes and specificity of COX-2 immunoreactivity were validated by in situ hybridization histochemistry of COX-2 mRNA and Western blot analysis. Increased COX-2 activity (>5-fold) was documented by using a specific COX-2 inhibitor. The COX-2 up-regulation in ADX rats was reversed by replacement therapy with either corticosterone or deoxycorticosterone acetate. In normal rats, inhibition of glucocorticoid receptors with RU486 or mineralocorticoid receptors with spironolactone caused up-regulation of renal cortical COX-2. These results indicate that COX-2 expression in situ is tonically inhibited by adrenal steroids, and COX-2 is regulated by mineralocorticoids as well as glucocorticoids.