Intercellular gap-junctional communication was measured using metabolic co-operation in co-cultures of argininosuccinate synthetase-deficient and argininosuccinate lyase-deficient human fibroblasts. 18-alpha-glycyrrhetinic acid (AGA) was found to inhibit communication by more than 95% at concentrations as low as 2 microM. Concentrations up to 100 microM were not cytotoxic over a period of 2 hours. Communication inhibition was of rapid onset and was readily reversible. Communication remained continuously yet reversibly blocked in cells cultured in the presence of AGA for 20 days. The related compounds 18-beta-glycyrrhetinic acid and carbenoxolone also caused communication inhibition. The effect is probably not mediated via mineralocorticoid or glucocorticoid receptors since aldosterone and glucocorticoids had no effect on communication. AGA thus has properties of a useful inhibitor in the study of intercellular junctional communication.