In a study of a diverse set of human tumor cell lines previously shown to all have a defect in methionine metabolism (Stern, P. H., Wallace, C.D. and Hoffman, R.M., J. Cellular Physiology 119, 29-34, 1984), we demonstrate in this report that all have enhanced overall rates of transmethylation compared to normal human fibroblasts. Transmethylation rates were measured by blocking S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase and measuring the AdoHcy which accumulates as a result of transmethylation. The enhanced transmethylation rates may be the basis of the above-mentioned defects in methionine metabolism previously reported in human tumor cells, including the basis of the inability of the majority of the tumor cells to grow when methionine is replaced by homocysteine. The excess and unbalanced tRNA methylation observed for the last 25 years in many types of cancer may be at least in part explained by our results of elevated rates of overall transmethylation in cancer cells. The alteration of such a fundamental process as transmethylation in cancer may be indicative of its importance in the oncogenic process.