Dideoxycytidine (ddCyd), an inhibitor of AIDS-related HIV, has been examined for effects on cell proliferation and phosphatidylcholine synthesis in tumor lines of nervous system origin. Uptake and metabolism of [3H]ddCyd, observed in all cells, was greatest in one human neuroblastoma line, HTB-10. Growth of the HTB-10 line was markedly inhibited by 40 microM ddCyd, whereas growth of C6 glioma and N1E-115 or HTB-11 neuroblastoma cells was unaltered. Phosphatidylcholine synthesis in the presence or absence of stimulation by phorbol ester was not specifically altered by ddCyd. Thus, ddCyd was incorporated and inhibited growth in a cell-specific manner but had little effect on cytidine-dependent phospholipid synthesis. This suggests that some cells derived from the nervous system may be more susceptible than others with respect to the positive and negative effects of ddCyd as a potential antiviral drug.