Feeding of cinnamic acid and ferulic acid to non-treated and chitosan-treated cell suspension cultures of Vanilla planifolia resulted in the formation of trace amounts of p-hydroxy benzoic acid (5.2 micrograms per gram fresh weight of cells) and vanillic acid (6.4 micrograms per gram fresh weight of cells), respectively. Addition of a 4-hydroxycinnamate: CoA-ligase inhibitor, 3,4-(methylenedioxy)-cinnamic acid (MDCA), resulted in a reduced biosynthesis of ligneous material with a simultaneous significant increased vanillic acid formation (around 75 micrograms per gram fresh weight of cells). A K(1) of 100 micromolar for 4-hydroxycinnamate: CoA-ligase in a crude preparation was estimated for this inhibitor. It is suggested that the conversion of cinnamic acids into benzoic acids does not involve cinnamoyl CoA esters as intermediates. Feeding of (14)C-cinnamic acid and (14)C-ferulic acid to cells treated with MDCA indicate that cinnamic acid, but not ferulic acid, is a precursor of vanillic acid in these cultivated cells of V. planifolia.