The mechanism whereby cyclooxygenase-2 and its prostaglandin (PG) products are involved in colonic carcinogenesis is not fully understood. Prostacyclin (PGI(2)) is a major PG with antiapoptotic activity and is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. We reported previously that a human colorectal cancer (CRC) cell line, HCA-7, produces significant levels of PGE(2), PGD(2), thromboxane, and PGF(2alpha), but not PGI(2). We now report that human colonic fibroblast cell lines produce significant amounts of PGI(2) and that fibroblast lines derived from normal-appearing colonic mucosa of hereditary nonpolyposis CRC individuals produce 50-fold more PGI(2) than normal fibroblast lines derived from individuals with nonhereditary CRC. Coculture of HCA-7 cells with hereditary nonpolyposis CRC fibroblasts, but not normal fibroblasts, markedly reduced butyrate-induced apoptosis of HCA-7 cells. This antiapoptotic effect was inhibited by the cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitor rofecoxib and was restored by the stable PGI(2) analogue carbaprostacyclin. PGI(2) binds either G protein-coupled cell surface PGI(2) receptor or the nuclear peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) delta. PPAR delta likely mediates this antiapoptotic effect because HCA-7 cells express this receptor, and another PPAR delta agonist, docosahexaenoic acid, mimics the effect. We propose a novel mechanism by which stromal production of PGI(2) promotes survival of colonocytes through PPAR delta activation. This mechanism may have relevance to maintenance of cells in the normal crypt and to clonal expansion of mutant colonocytes during tumorigenesis.