Phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), a cruciferous vegetable component, inhibits lung tumor induction by the tobacco specific nitrosamine, 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK). To gain insight into the mechanism of PEITC lung tumor inhibition, we examined, in male F344 rats, the effects of dietary PEITC (3 μmol/g NIH-07 diet) in combination with NNK treatment (1.76 mg/kg, s.c., three times a week) for 4, 12 and 20 weeks on liver and lung microsomal metabolism of NNK and C(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL), a major metabolite of NNK and also a lung carcinogen. This was compared with rats fed NIH-07 diet, without PEITC, and treated with NNK alone or saline. The protocol was identical to that employed for inhibition of lung tumorigenesis by PEITC. We observed decreased rates of α-hydroxylation of NNK and NNAL in lung microsomes of 4-, 12- and 20-week PEITC + NNK treated rats compared with those treated with NNK or saline. NNK treatment alone also decreased lung α-methylene hydroxylation of NNK. Longterm NNK + PEITC administration did not significantly affect liver oxidative metabolism of NNK or NNAL, and did not affect the rate of glucuronidation of NNAL in liver microsomes when compared with rats treated with NNK or saline. Thus, PEITC selectively inhibited lung metabolic activation of NNK and NNAL. These results support the hypothesis that PEITC inhibits NNK-induced lung tumors by inhibiting metabolic activation of NNK in the lung. This study also demonstrated that PEITC inhibits lung α-hydroxylation of NNAL; this may play a role in PEITC inhibition of lung tumorigenesis by NNK.