Microsomal epoxide hydrolase (mEH) plays a dual role in the detoxification and activation of tobacco procarcinogens. Two polymorphisms affecting enzyme activity have been described in the exons 3 and 4 of the mEH gene, which result in the substitution of amino acids histidine to tyrosine at residue 113, and arginine to histidine at residue 139, respectively. We performed a hospital-based case-control study consisting of 277 newly diagnosed lung cancer patients and 496 control subjects to investigate a possible association between these two polymorphisms and lung cancer risk. The polymorphisms were determined by polymerase chain reaction/restriction fragment length polymorphism and TaqMan assay using DNA from peripheral white blood cells. Logistic regression was performed to calculate odds ratios (ORs), confidence limits (CL) and to control for possible confounders. The exon 3 polymorphism of the mEH gene was associated with a significantly decreased risk of lung cancer. The adjusted OR, calculated relative to subjects with the Tyr113/Tyr113 wild type, for the His113/His113 genotype was 0.38 (95% CL 0.20-0.75). An analysis according to histological subtypes revealed a statistically significant association for adenocarcinomas; the adjusted OR for the His113/His113 genotype was 0.40 (95% CL 0.17-0.94). In contrast, no relationship between the exon 4 polymorphism and lung cancer risk was found. The adjusted OR, calculated relative to the His139/His139 wild type, was for the Arg139/Arg139 genotype 1.83 (0.76-4.44). Our results support the hypothesis that genetically reduced mEH activity may be protective against lung cancer.