Glioblastoma is the most invasive form of primary brain tumors, and is often refractory to chemotherapy. Herein, we provide evidence that two highly invasive human glioma cell lines U-87 MG and U-373 MG, entered apoptosis after 48 hours following 24 h growth arrest induced by Doxorubicin (10 micrograms/2 x 10(5) cells/ml). Apoptosis depended solely on the level of intracellular drug accumulation, and it was not related to a functional p53 tumor suppressor factor. The multidrug resistance gene 1 (mdr-1) encoded P-glycoprotein (P-gp) was weakly expressed in these cells upon exposure to Doxorubicin, and exerted no influence on the extent of cellular drug efflux. Drug efflux occurred only in U-373 MG glioma cells subsequent to physical damage of the membrane upon exposure to Doxorubicin. Pretreatment of tumor cells with 10 micrograms/ml Doxorubicin precluded tumor formation on the chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) of embryonated hen eggs. Single-dose application of 0.4 microgram Doxorubicin on CAM/U-87 MG and CAM/U-373 MG tumor transplants inhibited tumor invasion in CAM tissue by 40 to 50%. These data suggest that highly invasive glioblastomas can be driven to apoptosis following growth arrest induced by Doxorubicin, providing that intracellular drug accumulation suffices cytotoxic levels.