The polyamines putrescine, spermidine, and spermine have been implicated in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation. Previous studies, however, have demonstrated that the polyamines are essential for proliferation, but not differentiation, of HL-60 human promyelocytic leukemia cells. We have extended these findings by demonstrating a highly significant relationship between intracellular spermidine levels and HL-60 proliferation. However, in contrast to previous studies, we have also demonstrated that induction of HL-60 differentiation with dimethyl sulfoxide, hexamethylene bisacetamide, butyric acid, or retinoic acid is inhibited by alpha-difluoromethyl ornithine (DFMO) depletion of intracellular putrescine and spermidine. Further, the addition of exogenous spermidine abrogates DFMO inhibition of HL-60 differentiation, thus confirming the involvement of this polyamine in the expression of a differentiated phenotype. The discrepancy between our results and those of previous studies probably stems from the nearly complete, rather than partial, depletion of intracellular spermidine achieved in the present work. The results of the present study thus demonstrate the involvement of spermidine in both proliferation and induction of HL-60 differentiation with certain agents.