Previous studies have shown that sensitivity to high extracellular levels of Zn2+ is a general feature of cells in vitro and that a prerequisite of the toxic action of zinc is entry into cells via channels that are shared with iron or calcium. As the biochemical and toxicological behaviour of zinc chelate complexes could be different from that of free Zn2+, the effect of chelating agents on zinc transport into human melanoma cell lines was tested. EDTAcal and tetracycline reduced the toxic action of zinc ions in vitro, whereas phenytoin and diethyldithiocarbamate potentiated its effects. D-penicillamine, an effective chelator of zinc in vivo, also exerted a protective action in vitro. Comparison of sensitivity to Zn2+ in vitro between human melanoma lines and several lines of pigment cells from skin of various origins demonstrated that melanoma cells are killed by zinc ions at concentrations which are only partially toxic for normal pigment cells. This is consistent with the repeatedly observed high uptake of 65Zn by melanoma cells.