The effects of the flavonoids quercetin, apigenin and chrysin (10 microM) on the genetic toxicity of 2-amino-3-methylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoline (IQ) and benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) was investigated at sub-cytotoxic concentrations in Chinese hamster V79 cells expressing human or rat cytochromes P450. In V79 r1A2-NH and V79 h1A1-MZ cells, none of the flavonoids increased DNA strand breaks (SB) (measured by the Comet assay) or produced detectable DNA adducts (measured by 32P-post-labelling). Neither IQ nor BaP produced DNA damage in the absence of expressed CYP1A2 or CYP1A1, respectively. DNA damage measured as SB and DNA adducts was detectable in V79 r1A2-NH cells expressing rat CYP1A2 when treated with IQ (2.5-50 microM) and this was inhibited by quercetin. Likewise, DNA damage (SB and DNA adducts) was elevated in V79 h1A1-MZ cells expressing human CYP1A1 when treated with BaP (0.1-0.5 microM) and this was inhibited by chrysin and apigenin, but not by quercetin. The specificity of CYP1A1 inhibition by chrysin and apigenin and CYP1A2 inhibition by quercetin was confirmed by ethylresorufin O-deethylase assay.