The aim of the present study was to investigate how normal head and neck epithelial cells (NHNEC) respond to cisplatin compared to their neoplastic counterparts with respect to intracellular platinum (Pt) levels and growth inhibition. A colorimetric assay was used to assess growth inhibition after exposure to cisplatin for 72 h. Growth inhibition did not differ between cultures of neoplastic (n=5) and normal cells (n=5). Intracellular Pt levels, determined with atomic absorption spectroscopy were about 30-fold higher in the normal epithelial cells. The main finding of this study is that normal epithelial cells from the head and neck region have a much higher tolerance for cisplatin than their neoplastic counterparts. Interestingly, this characteristic is without consequence for growth inhibition. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.