The inhibitor of DNA-methylation, 5-azacytidine (5- AzaC ) induced the appearance of cytokeratin-containing cells in several mesenchymal cell lines such as teratocarcinoma-derived fibroblasts, preadipocytes and myoblasts, NIH-3T3 fibroblasts and human embryonic fibroblasts. At optimal 5- AzaC concentrations the proportion of such cells was in the range of 10(-1) compared with 10(-6) -10(-4) in non-treated cultures. Dose-response curves indicated that the induction of cytokeratin was the result of an interaction of the drug with few targets. Stable, mature, keratinocyte cell lines, as well as lines of myoblasts and astrocytes, could be isolated from a teratocarcinoma-derived preadipocyte line, showing that 5- AzaC is able to provoke a wide range of complete phenotypic conversions. In these cell lines, the intermediate filaments corresponded to the morphological phenotype. Altogether, the results suggest that 5- AzaC preferentially activates certain genes.