Ascorbic acid at pharmacologically attainable concentrations effectively inhibited the growth of the catecholamine-positive neuroblastoma cell line SK-N-SH; it inhibited LS cells to a smaller extent and catecholamine-negative SK-N-LO cell growth least effectively. In all three cell lines high concentrations of H2O2 were found. Since ascorbic acid was shown to release iron from ferritin in vitro and to keep it in the reduced state, we suggested that it acted as a pro-oxidant in ferritin-rich neuroblastoma cells in the presence of H2O2 and Fe2+ (Fenton reaction), implying iron release from cellular ferritin. We show here that iron could be mobilized from cellular ferritin by 1 mM ascorbic acid in iron-59-preloaded SK-N-SH and LS cells, but not in SK-N-LO cells. In agreement with these results, DNA strand break formation by ascorbate was only observed in SK-N-SH and LS cells. In SK-N-LO cells, DNA strand breaks could be induced by a combination of 1 mM ascorbic acid and 100 microM H2O2. Since cell-damaging effects caused by chemotherapy further facilitate iron release from ferritin, we conclude that ascorbate could be a powerful enhancer of some cytostatic drugs in neuroblastoma therapy.