L1210 cells were selected for resistance to the ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) inhibitor, α-difluoro methyl or nithine. When grown in the absence of the inhibitor, these cells possessed very high ornithine decarboxylase levels. These represented about 1 part in 300 of the soluble protein, which is several hundred times greater than the maximal value found in the original L1210 cells. The resistant cells contained at least 100-fold higher levels of ODC mRNA but the half-life of ODC (about 45 min) was not altered significantly. The resistant cells had much higher putres-dne and cadaverine levels than control cells, but there was no significant difference in cellular spermidine or spermine content or in production of 5'-methylthioadenosine, which is a measure of polyamine synthesis. Addition of putrescine to the control or resistant cells had no effect on their content of spermidine and spermine but addition of decarboxylated S-adenosylmethionine increased the content of spermidine and spermine. These results indicate that ornithine decarboxylase is not the rate-limiting step in polyamine synthesis in these L1210 cells. The growth of the a-difluoro methyl or nithine-resistant L1210 cells was inhibited when their ability to synthesize spermidine and spermine was blocked by the addition of the S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase inhibitor, 5'-deoxy-5'-[N-methyl-N-(3-hydrazinopropyl)]aminoadenosine. Treatment with this compound produced a reduction of more than 85% in the production of 5 '-methylthioadenosine and led to a large increase in the content of putrescine and a substantial decline in the content of spermidine and spermine. These results indicate the potential value of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase inhibitors as therapeutic agents in conditions where ODC inhibitors are ineffective. © 1988, American Association for Cancer Research. All rights reserved.