The branched-chain fatty acid valproic acid (VPA) is the most commonly used antiepileptic drug for treating generalized epilepsy. Although originally considered to be of low toxicity, VPA has proved to possess considerable teratogenic potential when applied to the pregnant epileptic women. During the last few years, it has become evident that some of the mechanisms which account for the malformations produced by VPA are related to distinct anti-tumor properties of this compound. This intriguing discovery opens novel aspects for the treatment of tumor patients. In the present review, the biological, biochemical and pharmacological properties of VPA are discussed. Analyses of structure-activity relationships can provide the necessary insight into the molecular structures responsible for the anti-tumor effects.