Recent evidence suggests that several unknown or ill-characterized factors strongly influence cell growth and function in culture. Isolating these factors is necessary in order to maximize culture productivities. Methylglyoxal (MG), a potent protein and nucleic acid modifying agent, has been identified as a player in the signaling pathways associated with cell death and is known to be detrimental to cultured cells. This compound is produced in all mammalian systems by spontaneous phosphate elimination from glycolytic pathway intermediates. A kinetic model that qualitatively describes the cellular distribution of protein-associated MG in the absence of enzymatic adduct formation predicted far lower levels of reversibly bound MG than measured in cultured CHO cells. This suggests that the targeted modification of proteins through enzymatically mediated mechanisms is a significant sink for cellular methylglyoxal. The model was validated with measurements of carbon flux through the glyoxalase pathway to d-lactic acid, a unique end product of MG metabolism in mammalian systems. Fluxes to d-lactic acid of up to 16.8 mmol ml-packed cells(-1) day(-1) were measured with CHO cells grown in batch culture or 100-fold more than found in normal tissues.