The cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes are responsible for the committed step in prostaglandin biosynthesis, the generation of prostaglandin H(2). As a result, these enzymes are pharmacologically important targets for nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and newer COX-2 selective inhibitors. The cyclooxygenases are functional homodimers, and each subunit contains both a cyclooxygenase and a peroxidase active site. These enzymes are quite interesting mechanistically, as the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostaglandin H(2) requires two oxygenation and two cyclization reactions, resulting in the formation of five new chiral centers with nearly absolute regio- and stereochemical fidelity. We have used molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to investigate the equilibrium behavior of both COX-1 and COX-2 enzyme isoforms with bound arachidonate. These simulations were compared with reference simulations of arachidonate in solution to explore the effect of enzyme on substrate conformation and positioning in the active site. The simulations suggest that the substrate has greater conformational freedom in the COX-2 active site, consistent with the larger COX-2 active site volume observed in X-ray crystal structures. The simulations reveal different conformational behavior for arachidonate in each subunit over the course of extended equilibrium MD simulations. The simulations also provide detailed information for several protein channels that might be important for oxygen and water transport to or from active sites or for intermediate trafficking between the cyclooxygenase and peroxidase active sites. The detailed comparisons for COX-1 versus COX-2 active site structural fluctuations may also provide useful information for design of new isozyme-selective inhibitors.