Cancer prevention by dietary phytochemicals has been shown to involve decreased cell proliferation and cell cycle arrest. However, there is limited understanding of the mechanisms involved. Previously, we have shown that a common effect of phytochemicals investigated is to oxidize the intracellular glutathione (GSH) pool. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate whether changes in the glutathione redox potential in response to dietary phytochemicals was related to their induction of cell cycle arrest. Human colon carcinoma (HT29) cells were treated with benzyl isothiocyanate (BIT) (BIT), diallyl disulfide (DADS), dimethyl fumarate (DMF), lycopene (LYC) (LYC), sodium butyrate (NaB) or buthione sulfoxamine (BSO, a GSH synthesis inhibitor) at concentrations shown to cause oxidation of the GSH: glutathione disulfide pool. A decrease in cell proliferation, as measured by [(3)H]-thymidine incorporation, was observed that could be reversed by pretreatment with the GSH precursor and antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Cell cycle analysis on cells isolated 16 h after treatment indicated an increase in the percentage (ranging from 75-30% for benzyl isothiocyanate and lycopene, respectively) of cells at G2/M arrest compared to control treatments (dimethylsulfoxide) in response to phytochemical concentrations that oxidized the GSH pool. Pretreatment for 6 h with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) resulted in a partial reversal of the G2/M arrest. As expected, the GSH oxidation from these phytochemical treatments was reversible by NAC. That both cell proliferation and G2/M arrest were also reversed by NAC leads to the conclusion that these phytochemical effects are also mediated, in part, by intracellular oxidation. Thus, one potential mechanism for cancer prevention by dietary phytochemicals is inhibition of the growth of cancer cells through modulation of their intracellular redox environment.