The acute lymphoblastic leukemia cell line CCRF-CEM is sensitive to Ara-C and undergoes apoptosis. In contrast, the chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) cell line K562 is highly resistant to Ara-C, which causes the cells to differentiate into erythrocytes before undergoing apoptosis. We used cDNA microarrays to monitor the alterations in gene expression in these two cell lines under conditions leading to apoptosis or differentiation. Ara-C-treated CCRF-CEM cells were characterized by a cluster of down-regulated chaperone genes, whereas Ara-C-treated K562 cells were characterized by a cluster of up-regulated hemoglobin genes. In K562 cells, Ara-C treatment induced significant down-regulation of the asparagine synthetase gene, which is involved in resistance to L-asparaginase. Sequential treatment with Ara-C and L-asparaginase had a synergistic effect on the inhibition of K562 cell growth, and combination therapy with these two anticancer agents may prove effective in the treatment of CML, which cannot be cured by either drug alone.