The monoterpenes limonene and perillyl alcohol are effective therapeutic agents against advanced rat mammary cancer. Limonene is currently undergoing clinical testing in cancer patients. These monoterpenes and their oxygenated metabolites have been previously shown to inhibit protein prenylation in cultured cells. Since farnesylation of ras protein is critical for its ability to cause oncogenic transformation, inhibition of protein prenylation may be the basis of the anti-tumor effects of limonene and perillyl alcohol. In this study we test the ability of limonene and its oxygenated analogs to inhibit protein prenylation enzymes in vitro. Limonene and perillyl alcohol and their major in vivo metabolite, perillic acid, are weak inhibitors of both mammalian and yeast protein farnesyl transferase (PFT) and protein geranylgeranyl transferase (PGGT). In contrast, a minor metabolite of both limonene and perillyl alcohol, perillic acid methyl ester, is a potent inhibitor of both enzymes. Perillic acid methyl ester is a competitive inhibitor of yeast PFT with respect to farnesyl pyrophosphate. These studies suggest that if the inhibition of protein prenylation is a mechanism for limonene's and perillyl alcohol's anti-cancer activities, these monoterpenes may be prodrugs that are converted into pharmacologically-active substances by metabolic modification.