Cytokines, such as granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) or interleukin-3 (IL-3) recruit quiescent cells into the cell cycle and sensitize these cells towards cell cycle specific chemotherapeutic agents. We examined the in vitro effects of GM-CSF on HL-60 cells and tested its modulatory influence on biochemical and cytotoxic effects seen with tiazofurin, a potent and specific inhibitor of IMP dehydrogenase. Incubation of HL-60 cells with 500 U/ml GM-CSF for 4 d enhanced cell proliferation, which was accompanied by a significant increase in IMP dehydrogenase activity (from 2.22 in control cells to 3.70 nmol/mg/h in cells pretreated with GM-CSF). When HL-60 cells were incubated with 100 microM tiazofurin for 2 h, intracellular GTP decreased to 46% of untreated control cells. In HL-60 cells pretreated with GM-CSF, GTP pools decreased to 38% of control after incubation with tiazofurin which is 69% of the predicted value for additive effect. The MTT chemosensitivity assay yielded significantly decreased IC50 values for tiazofurin in HL-60 cells, preincubated with GM-CSF (IC50 decreased from 13 microM to 10 microM). Therefore our results suggest that combination therapy with GM-CSF and tiazofurin may be beneficial for the treatment of refractory leukaemia patients.