The pyridine nucleotide 6-aminonicotinamide (6AN) was shown recently to sensitize a number of human tumor cell lines to cisplatin in vitro. The present studies were undertaken to compare the drug concentrations and length of exposure required for this sensitization in vitro with the drug exposure that could be achieved in mice in vivo. Human K562 leukemia cells and A549 lung cancer cells were incubated with 6AN for various lengths of time, exposed to cisplatin for 1-2 hr, and assayed for Pt-DNA adducts as well as the ability to form colonies. K562 cells displayed progressive increases in Pt-DNA adducts and cisplatin sensitivity during the first 10 hr of 6AN exposure. An 18-hr 6AN exposure was likewise more effective than a 6-hr 6AN exposure in sensitizing A549 cells to cisplatin. HPLC analysis of 6AN and its metabolite, 6-amino-NAD+, permitted assessment of exposures achieved in vivo after i.v. administration of 10 mg/kg of 6AN to CD2F1 mice. 6AN reached peak serum concentrations of 80-90 microM and was cleared rapidly, with T1/2alpha and T1/2beta values of 7.4 and 31.3 min, respectively. Bioavailability was 80-100% with identical plasma pharmacokinetics after i.p. administration. At least 25% of the 6AN was excreted unchanged in the urine. The metabolite 6-amino-NAD+ was detected in perchloric acid extracts of brain, liver, kidney, and spleen, but not in serum. Efforts to prolong systemic 6AN exposure by administering multiple i.p. doses or using osmotic pumps resulted in lethal toxicity. These results demonstrated that 6AN exposures required to sensitize tumor cells to cisplatin in vitro are difficult to achieve in vivo.