The radiation isodose survival curve of attached Chinese hamster (V79) cells, subjected to a wide concentration range of salt or sucrose solutions, was characterized by two maxima separated by a minimum. Cells were radioprotected at the maxima (high and low hypertonic salt concentrations) while they were radiosensitized at the minimum (intermediate hypertonic salt concentrations). Both cations and anions could alter the cellular radiosensitivity above and beyond the (osmotic) effect observed for cells treated with sucrose solutions. However, the basic curve shape, except in the case of sulphate salts, remained the same. When these experiments were repeated with single cells in suspension, the isodose survival curve was quite different in that high salt concentrations did not protect cells in suspension unlike the case with attached cells. The curve shape was also altered in that the second maximum was absent with many salt solutions. When multicellular spheroids were used for these experiments, the data resembled those for single cell suspensions rather than for attached cells. The radiation survival data for cells in suspension in salt solutions correlated with water proton spin lattice relaxation time (T/sub 1/) and, in hypo- and iso-tonic solutions, with cell volume.