We have observed differences in the infrared spectra of viable fibroblast cells depending on whether the cells were in the exponential (proliferating) or plateau (nonproliferating) phase of growth. The spectral changes were observed even after correcting for cell number and volume, ruling out these trivial explanations. Several of the changes occurred for both transformed and normal cell lines and were greater for the normal cell line. The biochemical basis of the spectral changes was estimated by fitting the cell spectra to a linear superposition of spectra for the major biochemical components of mammalian cells (DNA, RNA, protein, lipids, and glycogen). The ratios of RNA/lipid and protein/lipid increased when the cells were in the exponential phase compared to the plateau phase of growth. The fits of cell spectra to individual biochemical components also demonstrated that DNA is a relatively minor spectroscopic component as would be expected biochemically. Contrary to other reports in the literature, our data demonstrate that determining DNA content or structure using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy data is difficult due to the relatively small amount of DNA and the overlap of DNA bands with the absorption bands of other biochemical components.