The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of arginine on sugarcane (Saccharum sp.) somatic embryogenesis, free polyamines and other nitrogenous compounds contents. Segments of leaves were used as explants to establish embryogenic cultures on media with 0 and 50.0 mg l−1 arginine. Somatic embryos formation and free polyamines, free proline and total soluble proteins contents were compared. Arginine significantly induced sugarcane somatic embryogenesis. Free proline and protein levels determined in embryogenic cell masses during embryo differentiation-maturation, showed an arginine-induced promotion associated to the enhancement of the embryogenic process. In addition, free putrescine and, in a minor extent, spermidine and spermine contents were enhanced by arginine.