The intracellular regulation and kinetics of prostaglandin (PG)E(2) synthesis in human airway epithelial (NCI-H292) cells was investigated. Interleukin (IL)-1beta, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) all induced PGE(2) synthesis (p<0.001) and transient (5-15 min) phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). Phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) and calcium ionophore, A23187 further enhanced PGE(2) synthesis (p<0.001) and caused phosphorylation of ERK that was sustained for up to 16 h. COX-2 protein expression and PGE(2) synthesis were increased following exposure to combinations of stimuli that increased intracellular Ca(2+), and activated protein kinase C as well as ERK. Inhibition of ERK almost completely abrogated PGE(2) synthesis in response to all stimuli. Sustained, maximum PGE(2) synthesis was observed when cells were stimulated such that ERK phosphorylation was concomitant with increased COX-2 protein expression. These results argue against redundancy in pathways for PGE(2) synthesis, and suggest that at various stages of inflammation different stimuli may influence ERK activation and COX-2 expression, so as to tightly regulate the kinetics and amount of PGE(2) produced by airway epithelial cells in response to lung inflammation.