The importance of a genetic polymorphism (A/B allele) of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) pseudogene on chromosome 13q34-qter, and PARP enzyme activities in the development of human breast cancer were evaluated in a cancer case-control study. A total of 309 Caucasian women (> or = 50 years old) were evaluated for the PARP genotype, 70 of whom had histologically confirmed breast cancer, 128 women with benign breast diseases as study controls, and 111 reference controls. Age was significantly associated with case-control status (p < 0.0001), but family history of breast cancer, age at menarche, age at first live birth and parity were not. The frequency of the PARP B allele was similar in breast cancer cases (0.14), study controls (0.13), and reference controls (0.15). In a subset of 14 breast cancer cases and 32 study controls, the mean PARP enzyme activities (induced by H2O2 or oligonucleotide) were observed to be lower in cancer cases; an age-adjusted odds ratio of 3.40 (95% confidence interval = 0.70-19.54) for the below-median oligonucleotide-induced PARP was suggestive of an association. In subjects with the AB or BB genotype, the mean H2O2-induced PARP enzyme activity was significantly higher (p = 0.02, adjusted for case-control status and age) compared with that in subjects with the AA genotype. These findings indicate that: (a) the genetic polymorphism of the PARP pseudogene on chromosome 13 is not associated with the development of breast cancer in our study population; (b) oligonucleotide-induced PARP activity may be useful for identifying postmenopausal women at increased risk for breast cancer; and (c) there is a possible functional link between the genotype of the PARP pseudogene and enzyme activation.