Vorozole (Vz) is a competitive non-steroidal inhibitor of aromatase, which has been used to treat breast cancer in postmenopausal women and in various chemoprevention pre-clinical studies. Recently, we assessed the inhibitory effect of Vz on MNU-induced mammary carcinogenesis (Lubet et al., 1994), as well as on the progression of mammary tumors (Lubet et al., 1998). In this study we evaluated the effects of Vz on tumor growth, serum estradiol, cell proliferation, apoptotic and non-apoptotic cell death to determine whether any of these 'surrogate' markers might reflect the efficacy of various doses of Vz. Vz at doses of 2.5 (Hi), 0.32 (Md), and 0.08 (Lo) mg/kg body weight induced complete (100%), 60%, and 20% regression of mammary tumors, respectively. Vz at Hi and Md doses caused a decrease in serum estradiol within the first two days of treatment, and the estradiol values remained low with additional treatment for 4 and 10 days. When Vz was administered to animals bearing palpable tumors a time and dose-dependent decrease in the proliferating cells (BrdU-L1) was observed. The percentage of apoptotic cells (A1) sharply increased 2 days after initiation of Vz treatment and then decreased followed by an increase in non-apoptotic dead cells. Interestingly even the Lo dose of Vz, which was only moderately effective in suppressing tumor growth, decreased cell proliferation and increased cell death in the peripheral tumor areas at 4 and 10 days after initiation of treatment. The time- and dose-dependent alterations in various cell parameters suggest two different phases of Vz-induced cellular responses: (1) an early phase (2-4 days of treatment) with a sharp increase in apoptotic cells and decrease in proliferating cells, and (2) a later phase (10 days) with disintegration of tumor parenchyma, increase in non-apoptotic dead cells, and decrease in apoptotic cells. The dose-dependent decrease in proliferating cells and increase in apoptotic and non-apoptotic cell death in Vz-treated animals suggest that these biomarkers might be used as potential surrogate endpoints for efficacy in breast cancer chemoprevention and therapy studies with aromatase inhibitors.