Imatinib mesylate (STI571, Gleevec) is a signal transduction inhibitor and novel anti-cancer agent. It selectively inhibits aberrantly activated tyrosine kinases in malignant cells, for example, bcr-abl in leukaemia, platelet-derived growth factor receptor and stem cell factor receptor (c-Kit) in solid cancers including malignant glioma. However, recently published clinical studies with imatinib monotherapy in patients with malignant glioma demonstrated only very modest anti-tumour activity. The aim of this study was to investigate the biological activity of imatinib, its cellular mechanisms of action and its synergism with other chemotherapeutic agents in human malignant glioma cells in culture. Expression of PDGF/R and c-Kit was analyzed by RT-PCR. Proliferation was measured by MTT assays and drug synergy was assessed by the Chou-Talalay method. Cell cycle and apoptosis were analyzed by flow cytometry and migration by monolayer migration assays. Multi-immunoblot was performed on imatinib-treated and control malignant glioma cells. Results indicate that imatinib is more effective in inhibiting cell colony formation and migration rather than proliferation. Imatinib treatment caused cell cycle arrest of glioma cells in G0-G1 or G2/M, with significant elevation of a few cyclin-dependent kinases. Furthermore, imatinib acted synergistically with chemotherapy agents, such as the DNA alkylating agent, temozolomide, and riboneucleotide reductase inhibitors, for example, hydroxyurea at varied effective dose levels. In conclusion, imatinib exerts varied biological effects on malignant glioma cells in culture. Synergistic interaction of imatinib with chemotherapy agents may be related to cell cycle control mechanisms and could be potentially important in a clinical setting.