Human oral cancer is the sixth largest group of malignancies worldwide and single largest group of malignancies in the Indian subcontinent. Seventy percent of premalignant cancers appear from premalignant lesions. Only 8-10% of these lesions finally turn into malignancy. The appearance of these premalignant lesions is one distinct feature of human oral cancer. At present there is dearth of biomarkers to identify which of these lesions will turn into malignancy. Regional lymph node metastasis and locoregional recurrence are the major factors responsible for the limited survival of patients with oral cancer. Paucity of early diagnostic and prognostic markers is one of the contributory factors for higher mortality rates. Cancer is a multistep process and because of constrain in availability of human tissues from multiple stages of oral carcinogenesis including normal tissues, animal models are being widely used, aiming for the development of diagnostic and prognostic markers. A number of chemical carcinogens like coal tar, 20 methyl cholanthrene (20MC), 9,10-dimethyl-1,2-benzanthracene (DMBA) and 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide (4NQO) have been used in experimental oral carcinogenesis. However, 4NQO is the preferred carcinogen apart from DMBA in the development of experimental oral carcinogenesis. 4NQO is a water soluble carcinogen, which induces tumors predominantly in the oral cavity. It produces all the stages of oral carcinogenesis and several lines of evidences suggest that similar histological as well as molecular changes are observed in the human system. In the present review an attempt has been made to collate the information available on mechanisms of action of 4NQO, studies carried out for the development of biomarkers and chemopreventives agents using 4NQO animal models.