Diferric transferrin which is often necessary for growth of cells is reduced by the transplasma membrane electron transport system of HeLa cells with release of ferrous iron outside the cell. Reduction of external diferric transferrin is reflected in oxidation of internal NADH. Adriamycin, an antitumor drug, inhibits diferric transferrin reduction by the HeLa cells and inhibits concomittant oxidation of cytosolic NADH at concentrations, 10(-8)-10(-6)M, which inhibit cell growth. Isolated liver plasma membranes have an NADH diferric transferrin reductase activity which is inhibited by similar adriamycin concentrations. We propose that inhibition of cell growth by adriamycin can be based on inhibition of transplasmalemma diferric transferrin reductase.