The aim of this study was to investigate the protective effect of vitamin C towards N-nitrosamine-induced DNA damage in the single-cell gel electrophoresis (SCGE)/HepG2 assay. None of the vitamin C concentrations tested (1-10 microM) in presence or absence of formamidopyrimidine-DNA glycosylase (Fpg enzyme) caused DNA damage per se. HepG2 cells simultaneously treated with vitamin C and N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), N-nitrosopyrrolidine (NPYR), N-nitrosodibutylamine (NDBA) or N-nitrosopiperidine (NPIP) reduced the genotoxic effects of the N-nitrosamines in a dose-dependent manner. At concentrations of 1-5 microM vitamin C, the protective effect was higher towards NPYR-induced oxidative DNA damage (78-79%) than against NDMA (39-55%), NDBA (12-14%) and NPIP (3-55%), in presence of Fpg enzyme. However, a concentration of 10 microM vitamin C led to a maximum reduction in NDBA (94%), NPYR (81%), NPIP (80%) and NDMA (61%)-induced oxidative DNA damage, in presence of Fpg enzyme. The greatest protective effect of vitamin C (10 microM) was higher towards NDBA-induced oxidative DNA damage. One feasible mechanism by which vitamin C exerted its protective effect is that may interact with the enzyme systems catalyzing the metabolic activation of the N-nitrosamines, blocking the production of genotoxic intermediates. Vitamin C (10 microM) strongly reduced the coumarin hydroxylase (82%) activity. However, the p-nitrophenol hydroxylase and the ethoxyresorufine O-deethylation activities were slightly and weakly reduced (32-19%), respectively.