To clarify the non-enzymatic radical-scavenging activity of beta-carotene-related compounds and other polyenes, we used differential scanning calorimetry to study the kinetics of radical polymerization of methyl methacrylate (MMA) by 2,2'-azobisisobutyronitrile (AIBN) or benzoyl peroxide (BPO) in the absence or presence of polyenes under nearly anaerobic conditions at 70 degrees C, and analyzed the results with an SAR approach. The polyenes studied were all-trans retinol, retinol palmitate, calciferol, beta-carotene and lycopene. Polyenes produced a small induction period. The stoichiometric factor (n) (i.e. the number of radicals trapped by each inhibitor molecule) of polyenes was close to 0. Tetraterpenes (beta-carotene, lycopene) suppressed significantly more of the initial rate of polymerization (R(inh)) than did diterpenes (retinol, retinol palmitate). The inhibition rate constants (k(inh)) for the reaction of beta-carotene with AIBN- or BPO-derived radicals were determined to be 1.2-1.6x10(5) l/mol s, similar to published values. A linear relationship between (k(inh)) and the kinetic chain length (KCL) for polyenes was observed; as (k(inh)) increased, KCL decreased. KCL also decreased significantly as the number of conjugated double bonds in the polyenes increased. Polyenes, particularly beta-carotene and lycopene, acted as interceptors of growing poly-MMA radicals.