The effect of up-regulation of putrescine (Put) production by genetic manipulation on the turnover of spermidine (Spd) and spermine (Spm) was investigated in transgenic cells of poplar (Populus nigra × maximowiczii) and seedlings of Arabidopsis thaliana. Several-fold increase in Put production was achieved by expressing a mouse ornithine decarboxylase cDNA either under the control of a constitutive (in poplar) or an inducible (in Arabidopsis) promoter. The transgenic poplar cells produced and accumulated 8-10 times higher amounts of Put than the non-transgenic cells, whereas the Arabidopsis seedlings accumulated up to 40-fold higher amounts of Put; however, in neither case the cellular Spd or Spm increased consistently. The rate of Spd and Spm catabolism and the half-life of cellular Spd and Spm were measured by pulse-chase experiments using [(14)C]Spd or [(14)C]Spm. Spermidine half-life was calculated to be about 22-32 h in poplar and 52-56 h in Arabidopsis. The half-life of cellular Spm was calculated to be approximately 24 h in Arabidopsis and 36-48 h in poplar. Both species were able to convert Spd to Spm and Put, and Spm to Spd and Put. The rates of Spd and Spm catabolism in both species were several-fold slower than those of Put, and the overproduction of Put had only a small effect on the overall rates of turnover of Spd or Spm. There was little effect on the rates of Spd to Spm conversion as well as the conversion of Spm into lower polyamines. While Spm was mainly converted back to Spd and not terminally degraded, Spd was removed from the cells largely through terminal catabolism in both species.