Doxorubicin (Dox), an anthracycline antibiotic, has a wide spectrum of antitumor activity with dose-limiting cardiotoxicity. The drug's toxicity is known to be closely related to the generation of active oxygen free radicals. In our study the normal cardiac tissue contents of total protein, glutathione (GSH) and malondialdehyde (MDA) were significantly decreased, by 25%, 33% and 92%, respectively, in the group of mice bearing Ehrlich ascites carcinoma (EAC) and treated with Dox (4 mg/kg/week x 2, ip). Administration of melatonin (5 mg/kg/day x 15, po) starting 24 hours prior to Dox treatment significantly increased the cardiac contents of total protein and GSH as well as the superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity, by 31%, 36% and 39%, respectively, compared to treatment with Dox only, while the content of MDA was decreased by 26%. Similarly, administration of vitamin E (250 mg/kg/day x 15, po) starting 24 hours prior to Dox treatment significantly increased the cardiac contents of total protein, GSH and SOD, by 23%, 26% and 42%, respectively, while the cardiac content of MDA was decreased by 35% compared with the Dox-only-treated group. As to the oncolytic activity of Dox, pretreatment of EAC-bearing mice with melatonin (5 mg/kg/day x 30, po) or vitamin E (250 mg/kg/day x 30, po) 24 hours prior to Dox administration (4 mg/kg/week x 4, ip) improved the antitumor activity of Dox as indicated by the increase in the average life span of the animals and the number of long-term survivors as well as the decrease in body weight loss induced by Dox treatment. It is clear from these results that administration of melatonin not only protects against the cardiotoxicity induced by Dox treatment but also enhances its antitumor activity to a more significant extent than does vitamin E.