Pentoxifylline (PTX) has been reported to have both direct and indirect anti-tumor effects in experimental tumor models. We studied the effect of PTX on (1) the proliferation of Neuro2a mouse neuroblastoma cells in vitro and in vivo, (2) spontaneous and experimental metastasis, (3) tumor cell membrane fluidity and (4) adhesion to a fibronectin-coated surface. PTX significantly reduced the proliferation of Neuro2a cells in vitro as determined by DNA measurement (P < 0.01) and total cell count (P < 0.02). In vivo, PTX reduced the growth of subcutaneously transplanted primary tumors in syngeneic A/J mice (P < 0.01; n = 15). All seven animals (100%) receiving intravenous tumor cells developed extensive liver metastasis. In contrast, only 1/11 (9%) of animals pre-treated with oral PTX and injected with PTX-treated cells developed liver metastases. Of five mice receiving PTX-treated cells without oral pretreatment of PTX, two out of five (40%) developed liver metastases. There was a slight, but not significant (P = 0.08) increase in both experimental and spontaneous lung metastases formation in PTX-treated animals. However, tumor nodule formation on the lung surface was inefficient. PTX also increased membrane fluidity of the Neuro2a cells and significantly decreased tumor cell adhesion to fibronectin-coated microtiter wells (P < 0.01). We conclude that PTX has a cytostatic effect on the Neuro2a mouse neuroblastoma and exerts an anti-tumor effect on liver metastases following intravenous administration of neuroblastoma cells. Whether these results are directly related to the changes in membrane properties caused by pentoxifylline remains to be established.