The COX-2 protein is frequently overexpressed in human malignant gliomas. This expression has been associated with their aggressive growth characteristics and poor prognosis for patients. Targeting the COX-2 pathway might improve glioma therapy. In this study, the effects of the selective COX-2 inhibitor meloxicam alone and in combination with irradiation were investigated on human glioma cells in vitro. A panel of three glioma cell lines (D384, U87 and U251) was used in the experiments from which U87 cells expressed constitutive COX-2. The response to meloxicam and irradiation (dose-range of 0-6 Gy) was determined by the clonogenic assay, cell proliferation was evaluated by growth analysis and cell cycle distribution by FACS. 24-72 h exposure to 250-750 microM meloxicam resulted in a time and dose dependent growth inhibition with an almost complete inhibition after 24 h for all cell lines. Exposure to 750 microM meloxicam for 24 h increased the fraction of cells in the radiosensitive G(2)/M cell cycle phase in D384 (18-27%) and U251 (17-41%) cells. 750 microM meloxicam resulted in radiosensitization of D384 (DMF:2.19) and U87 (DMF:1.25) cells, but not U251 cells (DMF:1.08). The selective COX-2 inhibitor meloxicam exerted COX-2 independent growth inhibition and radiosensitization of human glioma cells.