Fruit extracts of four Vaccinium species (lowbush blueberry, bilberry, cranberry, and lingonberry) were screened for anticarcinogenic compounds by a combination of fractionation and in vitro testing of their ability to induce the Phase II xenobiotic detoxification enzyme quinone reductase (QR) and to inhibit the induction of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), the rate-limiting enzyme in polyamine synthesis, by the tumor promoter phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (TPA). The crude extracts, anthocyanin and proanthocyanidin fractions were not highly active in QR induction whereas the ethyl acetate extracts were active QR inducers. The concentrations required to double QR activity (designated CDqr) for the ethyl acetate extracts of lowbush blueberry, cranberry, lingonberry, and bilberry were 4.2, 3.7, 1.3, and 1.0 microgram tannic acid equivalents (TAE), respectively, Further fractionation of the bilberry ethyl acetate extract revealed that the majority of inducer potency was contained in a hexane/chloroform subfraction (CDqr = 0.07 microgram TAE). In contrast to their effects on QR, crude extracts of lowbush blueberry, cranberry, and lingonberry were active inhibitors of ODC activity. The concentrations of these crude extracts needed to inhibit ODC activity by 50% (designated IC50) were 8.0, 7.0, and 9.0 micrograms TAE, respectively. The greatest activity in these extracts appeared to be contained in the polymeric proanthocyanidin fractions of the lowbush blueberry, cranberry, and lingonberry fruits (IC50 = 3.0, 6.0, and 5.0 micrograms TAE, respectively). The anthocyanidin and ethyl acetate extracts of the four Vaccinium species were either inactive or relatively weak inhibitors of ODC activity. Thus, components of the hexane/chloroform fraction of bilberry and of the proanthocyanidin fraction of lowbush blueberry, cranberry, and lingonberry exhibit potential anticarcinogenic activity as evaluated by in vitro screening tests.