BACKGROUND: Mesalamine, 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA), is a potent antioxidant and is known to enhance peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma activity in the intestine. Our previous studies suggested reduced Phosphoinositide 3-Kinase (PI3K)/beta-catenin signaling as a mechanism for 5-ASA chemoprevention in chronic ulcerative colitis (CUC). We now hypothesize that 5-ASA mediates changes in intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) reactive oxygen species during colitis to affect phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN), PI3K, and beta-catenin signaling. METHODS: Here, we examined effects of 5-ASA on oxidant-induced cell signaling pathways in HT-29 cells, IECs from mice, and biopsy tissue from control and CUC patients. Samples were selected to control for inflammation between untreated and 5-ASA-treated CUC patients. RESULTS: Direct evaluation of IEC in H2O2-stimulated whole colonic crypts indicated that 5-ASA reduces reactive oxygen species levels in lower crypt IECs where long-lived progenitor cells reside. Analysis of biopsies from patient samples revealed that 5-ASA increases expression of the antioxidant catalase in CUC patients. Also, 5-ASA increased nuclear peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma protein and target gene expression. Data showed 5-ASA-induced peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma DNA binding to the PTEN promoter (chromatin immunoprecipitation) and reduced both phosphorylated and oxidized (inactive) PTEN protein levels. Analysis of patient samples revealed 5-ASA that also reduced levels of active phosphorylated Akt in inflamed colitis tissue. Reduced PI3K/Akt signaling and expression of beta-catenin target genes in 5-ASA-treated CUC patients additionally suggests enhanced PTEN activity as well. CONCLUSIONS: Therefore, 5-ASA reduces CUC-induced reactive oxygen species in colonic progenitor cells and enhances PTEN activity, thus attenuating PI3K/Akt signaling. These data suggest that the antioxidant properties of 5-ASA may be the predominant mechanism for 5-ASA chemoprevention.