The oxazaphosphorine agent cyclophosphamide (CP) is an alkylating agent with a relative low stem cell toxicity. The aim of this study was to further evaluate the stem cell toxicity of the active metabolites of CP and its structural analogue ifosfamide (IFO) in comparison to their antileukemic efficacy. Cells of different malignant hematologic disorders (HL-60, HS-Sultan and THP-1) and CD34+ stem cells were treated with cytotoxic CP-metabolite mafosfamide (MAFO) and IFO-metabolites 4-hydroxy-IFO (4-OH-IFO) and chloroacetaldehyde. The clonogenity of the cells was investigated by using a colony-forming assay. All metabolites reduced the formation of both tumor-derived colonies and stem cell-derived CFU-GMs in a concentration-dependent manner. Our data showed a relative tumor-specific, stem cell protecting action of the substances tested with a higher toxicity against tumor cells (IC(50) against HS-Sultan: MAFO 1.1 microM; 4-OH-IFO 1.3 microM; CAA 3 microM) than against stem cells (IC(50) MAFO 14.8 microM; 4-OH-IFO 16.9 microM; CAA 14 microM). However, while the cytotoxic action of 4-OH-IFO corresponded to MAFOs activity, CAAs cytotoxic effect against the hematologic tumor cells was lower. In conclusion, the results confirm the observed cytotoxicity of CAA against solid tumors for cells of malignant hematologic disorders. Although the relative cytotoxic specificity of CAA is lower than for 4-OH-IFO and MAFO, also CAA, like 4-OH-IFO and MAFO, was found to be in part a tumoricidal, stem cell protecting substance.