Methionine (MET)-dependent cell lines require MET to proliferate, and homocysteine (HCY) does not act as a substitute for this requirement. From six O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT)-efficient (mer+) cell lines tested, two medulloblastomas (Daoy and D-341) and a lung non-small-cell adenocarcinoma with metastatic potential (H-1623) were most sensitive to MET deprivation, while two glioblastomas (U-138, D-263) and a small-cell lung carcinoma H-1944 were moderately to weakly dependent. Regardless of the degree of MET dependence, all of these lines down-regulated their MGMT activity within 48-72 h of transfer from MET+HCY- to MET-HCY+ media, long before the eradication of the culture. Reduction of MGMT activity was due to a decline of both MGMT mRNA and protein levels. However, the reduction was not related to the methylation status of the MGMT promoter at the SmaI site or the HpaII sites in the body of the gene; such sites have been shown to be associated in MGMT regulation and in defining the mer phenotype. MET-dependent, mer+ tumour cells cultured in MET-HCY+ were more sensitive to BCNU (IC50 = 5-10 microM) than those cultured in MET+HCY-(IC50 = 45-90 microM), while MET-independent or mer- cell lines were unaffected. This indicates that reduction of MGMT, imposed by the absence of MET, renders mer+ tumour cells more susceptible to alkylating agents. The relatively selective suppression of MGMT activity in mer+ MET-dependent tumour cells, in combination with the inability of such cells to proliferate in the absence of MET, may lead to the development of more effective treatment strategies for mer+ MET-dependent tumours.