To evaluate the interrelationship among the cellular energy status and the development of necrosis in tumor microregions, local ATP concentrations and the extent of necrosis were determined in multicellular tumor spheroids, i.e., in spherical tumor cell aggregates. The spheroids were grown in rotated suspension cultures using EMT6 cells that were derived from a murine mammary sarcoma. The distribution of viable and necrotic cell areas was assessed by histological investigations. The regional distribution of ATP concentrations was measured with a novel technique using quantitative bioluminescence and single photon imaging. This method makes it possible to determine ATP concentrations in absolute terms with a spatial resolution at the level of a single cell. The results show that ATP concentrations in the center of EMT6 spheroids decrease from values of 1.0 to 1.5 mM in small spheroids with 300 microns in diameter to values close to or at the background level in 750 microns spheroids. Necrosis was detectable in spheroids larger than 300 microns, and virtually no spheroid without necrosis was found at sizes larger than 600 microns. Since the emergence of central necrosis precedes the drop in ATP to undetectably low values, the data suggest that energy metabolism is not or not directly involved in the development of necrosis in tumor spheroids under the growth conditions investigated.