Treatment of tobacco liquid suspension cultures with methylglyoxal bis(guanylhydrazone) (MGBG) an inhibitor of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase, resulted in a dramatic overproduction of a 35-kDa peptide on sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (Malmberg, R.L., and McIndoo, J. (1983) Nature 305, 623-625). MGBG treatment also resulted in a 20-fold increase in the activity of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase. Purification of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase from MGBG-treated cultures revealed that the overproduced 35-kDa peptide and S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase are identical. Precursor incorporation experiments using [3H] methionine and [35S]methionine revealed that MGBG does not induce any increased synthesis of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase but rather stabilizes the protein to proteolytic degradation. The half-life of the enzyme activity was increased when MGBG was present in the growth medium. In addition to stabilizing S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase, MGBG also resulted in the rapid and specific loss of arginine decarboxylase activity with little effect ornithine decarboxylase. The kinetics of this effect suggest that arginine decarboxylase synthesis was rapidly inhibited by MGBG. Exogenously added polyamines had little effect on ornithine decarboxylase, whereas S-adenosylmethionine and arginine decarboxylase activities rapidly diminished with added spermidine or spermine. Finally, inhibition of ornithine decarboxylase was lethal to the cultures, whereas inhibition of arginine decarboxylase was only lethal during initiation of growth in suspension culture.