Complete amino acid deprivation in mammalian cells causes a significant enhancement in gene expression for a number of important cellular activities; among these is asparagine synthetase (AS). The data presented demonstrate that, in both nonleukemic (rat Fao hepatoma cells) and human leukemia cells (MOLT-4, NALL-1, and BALL-1), AS mRNA levels, protein content, and enzymatic activity are induced after incubation in an otherwise complete tissue culture medium that is deficient in a single amino acid or in medium that has been depleted of the amino acid asparagine by the addition of asparaginase. Complete amino acid deprivation results in a concerted increase in AS mRNA, protein, and enzymatic activity, which, in conjunction with previously published research, suggests that the mechanism of this cellular response involves transcriptional control of the AS gene. Asparaginase treatment is a standard component of acute lymphoblastic leukemia therapy for which the effectiveness is related to the inability of these cells to upregulate AS activity to a sufficient level. With regard to the asparaginase sensitivity of the three human leukemia cell lines, there was a trend toward an inverse relation to the degree of AS expression. Selection for asparaginase-resistant MOLT-4 sublines resulted in enhanced AS mRNA and protein content regardless of whether the cells had been selected by asparaginase treatment directly or asparagine was removed from the culture medium. Collectively, the data illustrate that further advances in asparaginase therapy will require additional knowledge of amino acid-dependent regulation of AS gene expression and, conversely, that asparaginase resistance represents a model system for investigating metabolite control in a clinically relevant setting.