The ability of dietary isothiocyanates to inhibit the esophageal metabolism of N'-nitrosonornicotine (NNN) was examined in F344 rats. Following feeding of benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC), phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), 3-phenylpropyl isothiocyanate (PPITC), 4-phenylbutyl isothiocyanate (PBITC) or 6-phenylhexyl isothiocyanate for 2 weeks, rats were killed and the esophagi were incubated in vitro with [5-3H]NNN. While dietary BITC, PEITC and PBITC all decreased NNN metabolism, dietary PPITC had the greatest effect, yielding inhibition ranging from 55 to 91% of the control production of various NNN metabolites. To determine the chemopreventive efficacy of PPITC on NNN-induced esophageal tumorigenesis, rats were fed AIN-76A diets containing 0, 1.0 or 2.5 μmol/g PPITC and were given untreated drinking water or drinking water containing 5 p.p.m. NNN. After 87 weeks, the experiment was terminated and the esophageal tumors were counted. Rats that were given untreated drinking water developed no tumors. Rats that were given 5 p.p.m. NNN and unadulterated AIN-76A diet had an esophageal tumor incidence of 71% and a multiplicity of 1.57 tumors/animal. The two dietary concentrations of PPITC reduced the incidence and multiplicity of NNN-induced esophageal tumors by > 95%. These results demonstrate the remarkable chemopreventive efficacy of PPITC in the NNN-induced esophageal tumor model.