The flavonoid quercetin suppresses cell proliferation and enhances apoptosis in vitro. In this study, we determined whether quercetin protects against colon cancer by regulating the protein level of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-kinase) and Akt or by suppressing the expression of proinflammatory mediators [cyclooxygenase (COX)-1, COX-2, inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS)] during the aberrant crypt (AC) stage. Forty male rats were randomly assigned to receive diets containing quercetin (0 or 4.5 g/kg) and injected subcutaneously with saline or azoxymethane (AOM; 2 times during wk 3 and 4). The colon was resected 4 wk after the last AOM injection and samples were used to determine high multiplicity AC foci (HMACF; foci with >4 AC) number, colonocyte proliferation and apoptosis by immunohistochemistry, expression of PI 3-kinase (p85 and p85alpha subunits) and Akt by immunoblotting, and COX-1, COX-2, and iNOS expression by real time RT-PCR. Quercetin-fed rats had fewer (P = 0.033) HMACF. Relative to the control diet, quercetin lowered the proliferative index (P = 0.035) regardless of treatment and diminished the AOM-induced elevation in crypt column cell number (P = 0.044) and expansion of the proliferative zone (P = 0.021). The proportion of apoptotic colonocytes in AOM-injected rats increased with quercetin treatment (P = 0.014). Levels of p85 and p85alpha subunits of PI 3-kinase and total Akt were unaffected by dietary quercetin. However, quercetin tended to suppress (P < 0.06) the expression of COX-1 and COX-2. Expression of iNOS was elevated by AOM injection (P = 0.0001). In conclusion, quercetin suppresses the formation of early preneoplastic lesions in colon carcinogenesis, which occurred in concert with reductions in proliferation and increases in apoptosis. It is possible the effects on proliferation and apoptosis resulted from the tendency for quercetin to suppress the expression of proinflammatory mediators.