Omission of Ca(2+) from the medium of confluent BALB/c3T3 cells for a period of 17 hr causes a large decrease in the number of cells synthesizing DNA. This effect is reversed by raising the Mg(2+) concentration of the medium to 20 mM. However, if the [Mg(2+)] is greater than 20 mM ("ultra-high" Mg(2+)), there is again a decrease in the number of cells synthesizing DNA. The synthesis of protein has a similar dependence on Mg(2+) concentration in Ca(2+)-deficient medium, but it responds within 45 min of the shift in cation concentrations rather than the 10 hr that is required for the change in DNA synthesis to become apparent. Cells in the ultrahigh Mg(2+) concentrations that are at first inhibitory to protein synthesis later return to maximal protein synthesis. This delayed increase in protein synthesis is reflected in a delayed increase in DNA synthesis. Intracellular concentrations of Mg(2+) in Ca(2+)-deficient media increase in proportion to extracellular Mg(2+) concentrations. Cells in medium with 30 mM Mg(2+) have a high intracellular content of Mg(2+) at 3 hr but have decreased their intracellular content by 17 hr, a time at which protein synthesis has been restored to normal. Intracellular Na(+) and K(+) concentrations also change in Ca(2+)-deficient medium, but independent variation of these ions shows that protein synthesis is relatively insensitive to their concentration. Intracellular Ca(2+) remains fairly constant under all these conditions. The rate of protein synthesis of intact cells changes as a function of intracellular Mg(2+) content in a manner very similar to that which has been reported for cell-free systems. We conclude that protein synthesis is very sensitive to small changes in intracellular [Mg(2+)] within physiological range and that the onset of DNA synthesis is dependent on the rate of protein synthesis. Regulation of the availability of Mg(2+) within the cell therefore presents a plausible mechanism for growth control.