Diallyl disulfide (DADS), an oil-soluble organosulfur compound in processed garlic, was more effective in inhibiting the in vitro growth of human tumor cell lines: HCT-15 (colon), A549 (lung), and SK MEL-2 (skin) than isomolar quantities of the water-soluble compound S-allyl cysteine (SAC). Addition of DADS (100 microM) was cytostatic to all three cell lines. The importance of the allyl and the disulfide groups were revealed by the lack of a comparable depression in the growth of HCT-15 cells exposed to its saturated analogue, dipropyl disulfide (DPDS). Treatment with DADS also resulted in a dose-dependent increase in intracellular free calcium in cells. A dose-dependent decrease in the activity of calcium-dependent ATPase enzyme occurred in HCT-15 cells exposed to increasing quantities of DADS. A correlation (r = -0.975) was found between the intracellular free calcium levels and the Ca-ATPase activity in DADS-treated cells. These studies document that DADS, a constituent of garlic oil, is an effective inhibitor of the growth of human neoplastic cells. Alterations in calcium hemostasis are likely involved in the growth inhibition/cytotoxicity caused by DADS.