Glutathione content, enzyme activity and isoenzyme composition of glutathione S-transferases were assayed in normal and Barrett's esophageal epithelium of ten patients with Barrett's esophagus. In addition, gastric and duodenal specimens from the same patients were also investigated. Glutathione content, glutathione S-transferase enzyme activity as well as glutathione S-transferase pi content were all significantly lower in Barrett's epithelium as compared to normal esophageal mucosa. In contrast, glutathione S-transferase class alpha enzymes are markedly expressed in Barrett's epithelium, whereas only low amounts are present in normal esophageal epithelium. Glutathione and glutathione S-transferase composition in Barrett's epithelium show striking similarities with gastric epithelium, whereas duodenal epithelium is provided with considerable higher amounts of glutathione and glutathione S-transferases, except for levels of glutathione S-transferase class pi, which are lower. A significant negative correlation exists between glutathione S-transferase enzyme activity in the mucosa along the gastrointestinal tract, and the tumour incidence. Since glutathione and glutathione S-transferase are correlated with protection against cellular or cytogenetic damage, the low content of glutathione and glutathione S-transferases in the Barrett's esophagus may be a factor of relevance for the increased tumour risk in this tissue.