The association between glutathione S-transferase (GST) activity as measured by 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene (CDNB) conjugation and genotype at exon 5 and exon 6 of the human GSTP1 gene was investigated in normal lung tissue obtained from 34 surgical patients. These samples were genotyped for previously identified polymorphisms in exon 5 (Ile105Val) and exon 6 (Ala114Val) by PCR-RFLP and direct sequencing. GST enzyme activity was significantly lower among individuals with the 105 Val allele. Homozygous Ile/Ile samples (n = 18) had a mean cytosolic CDNB conjugating activity of 74.9 +/- 3.8 nmol/mg per min; heterozygotes (n = 13) had a mean specific activity of 62.1 +/- 4.2 nmol/mg per min and homozygous Val/Val (n = 3) had a mean specific activity of 52.5 +/- 4.5 nmol/mg per min. The CDNB conjugating activity measured for the Ile/Ile genotype group was significantly different from that observed in the Ile/Val group (P = 0.03), and from Ile/Val and Val/Val genotypes combined (P = 0.009). Mean GST activity values were consistently lower in individuals with genotypes containing the 105 valine allele, regardless of smoking exposure. Genotypes at codon 114 were also assessed but the mean GST activity was not significantly lower in individuals with the 114 valine allele. A new haplotype, present in two samples who were homozygous 105Ile and had a 114Val, was identified and proposed as GSTP1*D. Frequencies of the exon 5 and exon 6 polymorphisms were determined in samples obtained from European-Americans, African-Americans and Taiwanese. The differences observed were highly significant suggesting the possibility of GSTP1 genotype-associated, ethnic differences in cancer susceptibility and chemotherapeutic response.