The relationships between smoking and the expression of glutathione S-transferase (GST*) isozymes GSTM1-1, GSTM3-3, GSTP1-1 and GSTA1-1/2-2 (GSTA1/2), or between smoking and activities of epoxide hydrolase (EH) and aryl hydrocarbon hydroxylase (AHH) were investigated in lung samples from 27 patients with lung cancer and 11 control patients by immunoblot analysis and enzyme assays. Determination of genotypes in blood leucocyte DNA showed that possession of the mu-class GSTM1 gene was closely related to the expression of GSTM1-1 and GSTM3-3 enzymes in lung cytosol: patients with the GSTM1 null genotype had no detectable GSTM1 protein and less GSTM3 protein than patients with the GSTM1 gene (P < 0.001). Absence of the GSTM1 gene did not affect the content of phi-class GSTP1-1 or alpha-class GSTA1/2. GST activity towards 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene was lower (P < 0.01) in patients lacking the GSTM1 gene than in those expressing GSTM1; in general, patients with a low GSTM3-3, GSTP1-1 or GSTA1/2 content also had significantly less overall GST activity. The pulmonary content of GSTP1-1 was greater in cancer than in non-cancer patients (P < 0.05). Smoking did not influence the levels of GST isozymes or the EH activity. In contrast, the AHH activity was significantly (P < 0.01) increased by smoking. Neither AHH nor EH showed a correlation with GSTM1 polymorphism. Our data support the idea that in smokers who lack the GSTM1 gene, activation of carcinogens in tobacco smoke (e.g. benzo[alpha]pyrene) is increased, while the efficacy of detoxification is limited both qualitatively (absence of GSTM1-1 enzyme and low expression of GSTM3-3 enzyme) and quantitatively (low overall GST activity). This imbalance in the metabolism of carcinogens may explain the increased susceptibility to lung cancer reported in smokers with the GSTM1 null genotype.