Glucosinolates are sulphur compounds that occur as glycosides in brassica vegetables. In response to tissue disruption they are degraded by thioglucosidase, releasing a range of highly reactive breakdown products, including the isothiocyanates, which we have previously shown to be selectively cytotoxic to undifferentiated colorectal tumour cells (HT29). In the present study we explored the effect of sinigrin on the intestinal mucosa of rats previously treated with dimethylhydrazine (DMH). In the first experiment, a semisynthetic feed containing sinigrin (400 microg/g diet) was provided 6 h after the second of two injections of DMH. The level of apoptosis was measured by morphological assessment of intact microdissected crypts obtained at 18, 24, 38, 48 and 72 h after injection, and compared with control groups given DMH only, or a sham-injection. Higher numbers of apoptotic nuclei were present in colonic tissue from both groups of DMH-treated rats compared with the controls, and the level was significantly higher in DMH-treated rats fed sinigrin compared with those given DMH only (P < 0.02). In a second experiment, rats were given sinigrin (400 microg/g diet) 22 h after the second of two injections of DMH; the level of apoptosis was measured after 48 h and the numbers of aberrant crypt foci (ACF) were measured after 42 days. The level of apoptosis was significantly higher in DMH-treated rats given sinigrin compared with controls (P < 0.05), and the numbers of ACF were significantly lower in sinigrin-treated rats (P < 0.001). There was no statistically significant induction of apoptosis in animals fed sinigrin alone. Sinigrin administered after DMH suppresses induction of ACF. This may be due to increased apoptotic deletion of damaged stem cells in the crypts of animals fed sinigrin.