The antiinflammatory agent darbufelone, ((Z)-5-[[3,5-bis(1,1-dimethylethyl)-4-hydroxyphenyl] methylene]-2-imino-4-thiazolidinone, methanesulfonate salt), was discovered as a dual inhibitor of cellular prostaglandin and leukotriene production. To study the mechanism of action of this drug, we expressed human prostaglandin endoperoxide synthase-1 (PGHS-1) and PGHS-2 and purified the recombinant enzymes using buffers that contain octylglucoside. In cyclooxygenase assays following a 15-min incubation of enzyme with inhibitor, darbufelone potently inhibits PGHS-2 (IC(50) = 0.19 microM) but is much less potent with PGHS-1 (IC(50) = 20 microM). Interestingly, when the assay buffer contains traces of Tween 20 (0.0001%), darbufelone appears inactive with PGHS-2 due to a detergent interaction that is detectable by absorption spectroscopy. We therefore used octylglucoside, which does not affect darbufelone in this way, in place of Tween 20 in our PGHS buffers. Inhibition of PGHS-2 with darbufelone is time dependent: with no preincubation, darbufelone is a weak inhibitor (IC(50) = 14 microM), but after a 30-min incubation it is 20-fold more potent. Plots of PGHS-2 activity vs preincubation time at various darbufelone concentrations reach a plateau. This finding is inconsistent with irreversible or one-step slow-binding inhibition. A two-step slow-binding inhibition model is proposed in which the E.I complex (K(i) = 6.2 +/- 1.9 to 14 +/- 1 microM) slowly transforms (k(5) = 0.015-0.030 s(-)(1)) to a tightly bound E.I form with K(i) = 0.63 +/- 0.07 microM and k(6) = 0.0034 s(-)(1). In steady-state kinetics inhibition experiments performed with no preincubation, we find that darbufelone is a noncompetitive inhibitor of PGHS-2 (K(i) = 10 +/- 5 microM). Darbufelone quenches the fluorescence of PGHS-2 at 325 nm (lambda(ex) = 280 nm) with K(d) = 0.98 +/- 0.03 microM. The PGHS substrate, arachidonate, and various cyclooxygenase inhibitors do not alter this binding affinity of darbufelone but a structural analogue of darbufelone competes directly for binding to PGHS-2. Di-tert-butyl phenols such as darbufelone may inhibit PGHS-2 by exploiting a previously unrecognized binding site on the enzyme.