Methylthioadenosine phosphorylase (MTAP), a key enzyme in the catabolism of 5'-deoxy-5'-methylthioadenosine (MTA), catalyzes the formation of adenine and 5-methylthioribose-1-phosphate. MTAP is expressed in all cells throughout the body, but a significant percentage of human tumors have lost MTAP expression, thereby making MTAP-loss a potential therapeutic target. Here, we have tested an MTAP-targeting strategy based on the idea that MTAP-expressing cells can be protected from toxic purine and uracil analogs by addition of MTA, but MTAP-deleted tumor cells cannot. Addition of as little as 10 μM MTA could entirely protect isogenic MTAP (+) , but not MTAP (-) , HT1080 cells from toxicity caused by the chemotherapy agents 6-thioguanine (6TG) or 5-fluorouracil (5FU). Inhibitor studies showed that MTA protection requires functional MTAP activity. Addition of adenine protected both MTAP (+) and MTAP (-) cells from 6TG and 5FU, consistent with the idea that adenine produced from the MTAP reaction competes with 6TG and 5FU for a rate limiting pool of phosphoribosyl-1-pyrophosphate (PRPP), which is required for the conversion of purine and uracil bases into nucleotides. Extracellular MTA can also protect mouse mesothelioma cells from killing by 6-TG or the drug L-alanosine in an MTAP-dependent manner. In addition, MTA can protect non-transformed MTAP (+) mouse embryo fibroblasts from 6TG toxicity. Taken together, our data suggest that the addition of MTA to anti-purine-based chemotherapy may greatly increase the therapeutic index of this class of drugs if used specifically to treat MTAP (-) tumors.