Resveratrol (3,4',5-trihydroxystilbene) is a naturally occurring phenolic compound which is present at high levels in wine and has been recently proposed as a potential cancer chemopreventive and chemoterapeutic agent. In this study, we evaluated the antiproliferative activity of resveratrol on a panel of cell lines of various histogenetic origin, including normal rat fibroblasts and mouse mammary epithelial cells compared to human breast, colon and prostate cancer cells. The concentration of resveratrol inhibiting cell growth by 50% (IC(50)) ranged from about 20 to 100 microM. At such concentration, we were unable to detect a significant increase in the apoptotic index in most of the cell lines analyzed. We also studied the effects of resveratrol on cell cycle distribution. The most striking effect was a reduction in the percentage of cells in the G2/M phase which was most frequently associated with an increase of cells in the S phase of the cell cycle. We also found that resveratrol is able to prevent the increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) following exposure to oxidative agents (i.e. tobacco-smoke condensate (TAR) and H(2)O(2)). Resveratrol also reduced nuclear DNA fragmentation, as assessed by single cell gel electrophoresis (comet test). Taken together our results suggest that resveratrol can act as an antimutagenic/anticarcinogenic agent by preventing oxidative DNA damage which plays a pivotal role in the carcinogenic activity of many genotoxic agents.