Induction of cytotoxicity and internucleosomal DNA fragmentation by 4-allyl-2-methoxyphenol (eugenol, EUG), 2-methoxy-4-methylphenol (MMP), 3,3'-dimethoxy-5,5'-di-2-propenyl-1,1'-biphenyl-2,2'-diol (bis-EUG) and 3,3'-di-methoxy-5,5'-dimethyl-1,1'-biphenyl-2,2'-diol (bis-MMP) were investigated in HL-60 leukemia cells. The 50% cytotoxic concentrations (CC50) for EUG, MMP, bis-EUG and bis-MMP were 0.38 mM, 0.38 mM, 0.18 mM and 0.20 mM, respectively. DNA fragmentation was induced most strongly by bis-EUG, followed by EUG, MMP and bis-MMP. The expression of MnSOD and, less strongly, Cu/ZnSOD activity, as assessed by acrylamide gel electrophoresis, was inhibited by EUG, suggesting mitochondrial dysfunction. The expression of the mRNAs for MnSOD and Cu/ZnSOD in HL-60 cells, as assessed by RT-PCR, was significantly inhibited by treatment with 1 mM EUG for 1 hour. Furthermore, inhibition of SOD mRNAs expression by EUG was strongly potentiated by the addition of 5 mM N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) or glutathione (GSH), whereas NAC or GSH alone did not affect the expression of SOD mRNAs. The cytotoxicity of EUG was significantly enhanced by high concentrations of NAC or GSH, which may be attributed to the inhibition of SOD mRNAs expression by the synergistic action of EUG and GSH or NAC. The regulatory effects of eugenol-related compounds on lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) gene expression in RAW 264.7 cells were investigated by Northern blot analysis. Bis-EUG, MMP and bis-MMP inhibited COX-2 gene expression at concentrations of 300 microM, 500 microM and 500 microM, respectively. In contrast, no inhibitory effect of EUG was found over the wide concentration range of 10-500 microM, possibly as a result of the extensive mitochondrial dysfunction induced by this compound, which possesses potent pro-oxidative activity. Eugenol-related compounds, particularly bis-EUG, may act as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-like compounds.