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Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are ubiquitous, persistent environmental contaminants that affect a number of cellular systems, including neutrophils. Among the effects caused by the noncoplanar PCB 2,2′,4,4′-tetrachlorobiphenyl (2244-TCB) in granulocytic HL-60 cells are increases in superoxide anion production, activation of phospholipase A2 with subsequent release of arachidonic acid (AA) and upregulation of the inflammatory gene cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). The objective of this study was to determine the signal transduction pathways involved in the upregulation of COX-2 by 2244-TCB. Treatment of HL-60 cells with 2244-TCB led to increased expression of COX-2 mRNA. This increase was prevented by the transcriptional inhibitor actinomycin D in cells pretreated with 2244-TCB for 10 min. The increase in COX-2 mRNA was associated with release of 3H-AA, phosphorylation of p38 and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases, increased levels of nuclear NF-κB and increased superoxide anion production. Bromoenol lactone, an inhibitor of the calcium-independent phospholipase A2, reduced 3H-AA release but had no effect on COX-2 mRNA, protein or activity. Pretreatment with SB-202190 or SB-203580, inhibitors of the p38 MAP kinase pathway, prevented the 2244-TCB-mediated induction of COX-2 and phosphorylation of p38 and ERK MAP kinases. These inhibitors did not alter 3H-AA release. Treatment with PD 98059 or U 0126, inhibitors of the MAP/ERK (MEK) pathway, prevented the 2244-TCB-mediated activation of ERK but had no effect on COX-2 induction or p38 phosphorylation. 2244-TCB treatment did not affect c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) phosphorylation. 2244-TCB exposure increased the amount of nuclear NF-κB. This increase was prevented by pretreatment with p38 MAP kinase inhibitors, but not by pretreatment with MEK inhibitors. Pretreatment with inhibitors of NF-κB prevented the 2244-TCB-mediated induction of COX-2 mRNA. 2244-TCB-mediated increases in superoxide anion were prevented by the NADPH oxidase inhibitor apocynin or the free radical scavenger 4-hydroxy TEMPO, but neither of these inhibitors affected the 2244-TCB-induced changes in COX-2 mRNA levels or 3H-AA release. Taken together these data suggest that p38 MAP kinase-dependent activation of NF-κB is critical for the 2244-TCB-mediated upregulation of COX-2 mRNA.