Genistein is a plant isoflavonoid bearing potent tumor growth-regulating characteristics. This effect of genistein has been attributed partially to its tyrosine kinase-regulating properties, resulting in cell-cycle arrest and limited angiogenesis. Genistein has been used in chemotherapy-resistant cases of advanced leukemia with promising results. Here we demonstrate that genistein primarily affects nucleic acid synthesis and glucose oxidation in tumor cells using the [1,2-(13)C2]glucose isotope as the single tracer and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to follow various intracellular glucose metabolites. The ribose fraction of RNA demonstrated a rapid 4.6%, 16.4%, and 46.3% decrease in isotope uptake through the nonoxidative branch of the pentose cycle and a sharp 4.8%. 24.6%, and 48% decrease in 13CO2 release from glucose after 2, 20, and 200 micromol/L genistein treatment, respectively. Fatty acid synthesis and the 13C enrichment of acetyl units were not significantly affected by genistein treatment. De novo glycogen synthesis from media glucose was not detected in cultured MIA cells. It can be concluded from these studies that genistein controls tumor growth primarily through the regulation of glucose metabolism, specifically targeting glucose carbon incorporation into nucleic acid ribose through the nonoxidative steps of the pentose cycle, which represents a new paradigm for the antiproliferative action of a plant phytochemical.