Food-derived heterocyclic amines (HCAs), particularly 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP), are implicated in the etiology of human colorectal cancer (CRC) via a process of N-oxidation followed by O-acetylation or O-sulfation to form electrophilic metabolites that react with DNA. Glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) detoxify activated carcinogen metabolites by catalysis of their reaction with GSH. However, among HCAs, only N-acetoxy-PhIP has been shown to be a substrate for the GSTs. By using a competitive DNA-binding assay, we confirm that hGSTA1-1 is an efficient catalyst of the detoxification of N-acetoxy-PhIP. Further, we show that hGSTs A2-2, P1-1, M1-1, T1-1 and T2-2 appear to have low activity towards N-acetoxy-PhIP, and that hGSTs A4-4, M2-2, M4-4 and Z1-1 appear to have no activity towards N-acetoxy-PhIP. A genetic polymorphism in the 5'-regulatory sequence of hGSTA1 has been shown to correlate with the relative and absolute levels of expression of GSTA1/GSTA2 in human liver. Examination of hGSTA1 allele frequency in 100 Caucasian CRC patients and 226 Caucasian controls demonstrated a significant over-representation of the homozygous hGSTA1*B genotype among cases compared to controls (24.0 and 13.7%, respectively, P=0.04). This corresponds to an odds ratio for risk of CRC of 2.0 (95% CI 1.0-3.7) when comparing homozygous hGSTA1*B individuals with all other genotypes. Thus, individuals who are homozygous hGSTA1*B, and who would be predicted to have the lowest levels of hGSTA1 expression in their livers, appear to be at risk of developing CRC, possibly as a result of inefficient hepatic detoxification of N-acetoxy-PhIP.