In the last 10 years precise cellular functions of alpha-tocopherol, some of which are independent of its antioxidant/radical-scavenging ability, have been revealed. Absorption of alpha-tocopherol from the gut is a selective process. Other tocopherols are not absorbed or are absorbed to a lesser extent. At the post-translational level, alpha-tocopherol inhibits protein kinase C and 5-lipoxygenase and activates protein phosphatase 2A and diacylglycerol kinase. Some genes [platelet glycoprotein IV/thrombospondin receptor/class B scavenger receptor (CD36), alpha-tocopherol transfer protein (alpha-TTP), alpha-tropomyosin, connective tissue growth factor and collagenase] are affected by alpha-tocopherol at the transcriptional level. alpha-Tocopherol also inhibits cell proliferation, platelet aggregation, monocyte adhesion and the oxygen burst in neutrophils. Other antioxidants, such as beta-tocopherol and probucol, do not mimic these effects, suggesting a nonantioxidant, alpha-tocopherol-specific molecular mechanism.