The goal of this study was to evaluate the time course of metabolic changes in leukaemia cells treated with the Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib. Human Bcr-Abl(+) K562 cells were incubated with imatinib in a dose-escalating manner (starting at 0.1 microM with a weekly increase of 0.1 microM imatinib) for up to 5 weeks. Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and liquid-chromatography mass spectrometry were performed to assess a global metabolic profile, including glucose metabolism, energy state, lipid metabolism and drug uptake, after incubation with imatinib. Initially, imatinib treatment completely inhibited the activity of Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase, followed by the inhibition of cell glycolytic activity and glucose uptake. This was accompanied by the increased mitochondrial activity and energy production. With escalating imatinib doses, the process of cell death rapidly progressed. Phosphocreatine and NAD(+) concentrations began to decrease, and mitochondrial activity, as well as the glycolysis rate, was further reduced. Subsequently, the synthesis of lipids as necessary membrane precursors for apoptotic bodies was accelerated. The concentrations of the Kennedy pathway intermediates, phosphocholine and phosphatidylcholine, were reduced. After 4 weeks of exposure to imatinib, the secondary necrosis associated with decrease in the mitochondrial and glycolytic activity occurred and was followed by a shutdown of energy production and cell death. In conclusion, monitoring of metabolic changes in cells exposed to novel signal transduction modulators supplements molecular findings and provides further mechanistic insights into longitudinal changes of the mitochondrial and glycolytic pathways of oncogenesis.