Cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) are the enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of the precursor to the biologically active prostaglandins, prostacyclin, and thromboxane and are the molecular targets for nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Selective COX-2 inhibitors are antiinflammatory and analgesic but lack gastrointestinal toxicity, an undesirable side effect attributed to COX-1 inhibition. Crystallographic analysis of selective COX inhibitors complexed with either isoform provides some information about the molecular determinants of selectivity but does not provide information about the dynamics of inhibitor association/dissociation. We employed rapid-mixing techniques and fluorescence quenching to monitor the association and dissociation of a selective COX-2 inhibitor to COX-1 or COX-2. The association of the fluorescent diaryloxazole, SC299, with both enzymes occurs in a time-dependent fashion. Its binding to COX-2 occurs in three kinetically distinct steps whereas its binding to COX-1 occurs in two steps. In contrast to the relatively rapid association of SC299 with both enzymes, its dissociation from COX-2 is quite slow and occurs over several hours whereas the dissociation from COX-1 is complete in less than 1 min. The selectivity of SC299 as a COX-2 inhibitor correlates to its relative rates of dissociation from the two COX isoforms. A model is proposed for diarylheterocycle binding to COX's that integrates these kinetic data with available structural information.