Zearalenone (ZEN) is a non-steroidal oestrogenic mycotoxin produced by several Fusarium species growing on cereals. ZEN and its metabolites bind to human oestrogen receptors and hence display oestrogenic and anabolic properties. Several lines of investigation suggest that ZEN may be genotoxic in vivo. ZEN damages DNA in Bacillus subtilis recombination tests, and it induces sister chromatid exchange and chromosomal aberration in CHO cells. ZEN also induces DNA-adduct formation in mouse tissues and SOS repair process in lysogenic bacteria. In the present study, ZEN genotoxicity has been confirmed in three cell-lines, Vero, Caco-2 and DOK at concentrations of 10, 20 and 40 microM. Under these conditions, ZEN induces concentration-dependent DNA fragmentation resulting in DNA laddering patterns on agarose gel electrophoresis. This observation is consistent with apoptosis, which was confirmed by observations of formation of apoptotic bodies. Moreover, ZEN induces cell cycle arrest in the three cell-lines characterised by an increase of the number of cells in the G2/M phase of the cell cycle. Vitamin E (25 microM) added simultaneously with ZEN partially reduces DNA fragmentation and apoptotic body formation after 24h incubation. Vitamin E may act by maintaining prolonged cell cycle arrest during which time DNA repair takes place.