Epidemiological, experimental and clinical results suggest that aspirin and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) inhibit the development of colon cancer. It has been shown that the NSAID sulindac induces apoptosis and suppresses carcinogenesis, in part, by a mechanism leading to the transcriptional activation of the gene encoding SSAT (spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase), a rate-limiting enzyme in polyamine catabolism. In the present study, we show that a variety of NSAIDs, including aspirin, sulindac, ibuprofen and indomethacin, can induce SSAT gene expression in Caco-2 cells. Aspirin, at physiological concentrations, can induce SSAT mRNA via transcriptional initiation mechanisms. This induction leads to increased SSAT protein levels and enzyme activity. Promoter deletion analysis of the 5' SSAT promoter-flanking region led to the identification of two NF-kappaB (nuclear factor kappaB) response elements. Electrophoretic mobility-shift assays showed binding of NF-kappaB complexes at these sequences after aspirin treatment. Aspirin treatment led to the activation of NF-kappaB signalling and increased binding at these NF-kappaB sites in the SSAT promoter, hence providing a potential mechanism for the induction of SSAT by aspirin in these cells. Aspirin-induced SSAT ultimately leads to a decrease in cellular polyamine content, which has been associated with decreased carcinogenesis. These results suggest that activation of SSAT by aspirin and different NSAIDs may be a common property of NSAIDs that plays an important role in their chemopreventive actions in colorectal cancer.