It has been shown that human malignant glioma tumours consist of several subpopulations of tumour cells. Due to heterogeneity and different degrees of vascularisation cell subpopulations possess varying resistance to chemo- or radiation therapy. Therefore, therapy is dependent on the ability to specifically target a tumour cell. Boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) is a bimodal method, in radiation therapy, taking advantage of the ability of the stable isotope boron-10 to capture neutrons. It results in disintegration products depositing large amounts of energy within a short length, approximately one cell diameter. Thereby, selective irradiation of a target cell may be accomplished if a sufficient amount of boron has been accumulated and hence the cell-associated boron concentration is of critical importance. The accumulation of boron, boronophenylalanine (BPA), was investigated in two human glioma cell subpopulations and a human fibroblast cell line in vitro. The cells were incubated at low boron concentrations (0-5 microg B/ml). Oil filtration was then used for separation of extracellular and cell-associated boron. Inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES) was used for boron determination. Significant (P < 0.05) differences in accumulation ratio (relation between cell-associated and extracellular boron concentration) between human malignant glioma cell lines were found. Human fibroblasts, used to represent normal cells, showed a growth-dependent uptake and a lower accumulation ratio than the glioma cells. Our findings indicate that BPA concentration, incubation time and differences in boron uptake between cell subpopulations should be considered in BNCT.