As an approach to understanding the molecular mechanism(s) of thymic gene expression mediated by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), we investigated the effect of TCDD on expression of prostaglandin G/H synthase-2 (PGHS-2) in rat thymocytes by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Incubation of thymocytes with increasing doses of TCDD resulted in inhibition of PGHS-2 gene expression in a concentration-dependent manner, with an IC50 of 10 nM. In contrast, TCDD had no appreciable effect on expression of glyceraldehyde phosphate dehydrogenase. Because the xenobiotic-responsive element is conserved in the PGHS-2 promoter from several animal species, it seems likely that inhibition of PGHS-2 expression by TCDD may occur at the level of transcription. To test this hypothesis in cultured thymocytes, we characterized the Ah receptor in the thymoma cell line WEHI 7.1. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction experiments indicated that TCDD inhibited PGHS-2 expression in this cell line. Sucrose density gradient centrifugation experiments indicated that WEHI 7.1 cytosol exhibited 9 to 10S ligand-binding activity characteristic of the Ah receptor. The viability of WEHI 7.1 cells incubated with TCDD was comparable to that of control cells, whereas dexamethasone induced toxicity in a concentration-dependent manner. Transient transfection experiments using PGHS-2 promoter fragments ligated into a chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter plasmid suggested that TCDD inhibits PGHS-2 transcription, and deletion of the xenobiotic-responsive element failed to exhibit this repression. These results demonstrate that TCDD is a potent inhibitor of PGHS-2 gene expression, and they represent the first mechanistic evidence for TCDD-dependent inhibition of transcription in thymocytes.