The active component of the honeybee hive product propolis, caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), has been shown to display increased toxicity toward various oncogene-transformed cell lines in comparison with their untransformed counterparts (Su et al., 4: 231-242, 1991). This observation provides support for the concept that it is the transformed phenotype which is specifically sensitive to CAPE. In the present study, we have determined the effect of CAPE on the growth and antigenic phenotype of a human melanoma cell line, HO-1, and a human glioblastoma multiforme cell line, GBM-18. For comparison, we have also tested the effects of mezerein (MEZ), mycophenolic acid (MPA) and retinoic acid (RA), which can differentially modulate growth, differentiation and the antigenic phenotype in these human tumor cell lines. Growth of both cell lines was suppressed by CAPE in a dose-dependent fashion, with HO-1 cells being more sensitive than GBM-18 cells. The antiproliferative effect of CAPE was enhanced in both cell types if CAPE and MEZ were used in combination. Growth suppression was associated with morphological changes in H0-1 cells, suggesting induction of a more differentiated phenotype. CAPE also differentially modulated the expression of several antigens on the surface of the two tumor cell lines. These results suggest a potential role for CAPE as an antitumor agent, an antigenic modulating agent and possibly a differentiation inducing agent.