EICAR (5-ethynyl-1-beta-D-ribofuranosylimidazole-4-carboxamide) is a cytostatic agent that inhibits murine leukemia L1210 and human lymphocyte CEM cells at a 50% inhibitory concentration of 0.80-1.4 microM, respectively. EICAR causes a rapid and marked inhibition of inosinate (IMP) dehydrogenase (EC 220.127.116.11) activity in intact L1210 and CEM cells reflected by a concentration-dependent accumulation of IMP and depletion of GTP and dGTP levels. EICAR 5'-monophosphate is a potent inhibitor of purified L1210 cell IMP dehydrogenase (Ki/Km 0.06). Inhibition of IMP dehydrogenase by EICAR 5'-monophosphate is competitive with respect to IMP. L1210 cells that were selected for resistance to the cytostatic action of EICAR proved to be adenosine kinase-deficient. Also, studies with other mutant L1210 and CEM cell lines revealed that adenosine kinase, as well as an alternative pathway, may be responsible for the conversion of EICAR to its 5'-monophosphate. Purified 2'-deoxycytidine kinase, 2'-deoxyguanosine kinase, cytosolic 5'-nucleotidase, and nicotinamide dinucleotide (NAD) pyrophosphorylase do not seem to be markedly involved in the metabolism of EICAR.