There has been considerable debate about the relationship between epilepsy and cancer. Oxcarbazepine (OXC) is used for treating certain types of seizures in patients with epilepsy. There have been no detailed investigations about genotoxicity of OXC and its metabolites. Therefore, the aim of this study is to investigate the cytotoxic and genotoxic effects of OXC and its metabolites on cultured human lymphocytes. The cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of OXC on human peripheral blood lymphocytes were examined in vitro by sister chromatid exchange (SCE), chromosomal aberration (CA) and micronucleus (MN) tests. Cultures were treated with 125, 250 and 500 mu g/ml of OXC in the presence (3 h treatment) and absence (24 h and 48 h treatment) of a metabolic activator (S9 mix). Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was used as a solvent control. OXC showed cytotoxic activities due to significant decreases in mitotic index (MI), proliferation index (PI) and nuclear division index (NDI) in the absence of S9 mix when compared with solvent control. Metabolites of OXC also significantly reduced MI and PI in cultures with S9 mix. OXC significantly increased the CAs, aberrant cells, SCE and MN values in the presence and absence of S9 mix. Our results indicated that both OXC and its metabolites have cytotoxic, cytostatic and genotoxic potential on human peripheral blood lymphocyte cultures under the experimental conditions. Further studies are necessary to elucidate the relationship between cytotoxic, cytostatic and genotoxic effects, and to make a possible risk assessment in patients receiving therapy with this drug.