The fluorinated benzothiazole analogue 2-(4-amino-3-methylphenyl)-5-fluorobenzothiazole (5F 203, NSC 703786) is a novel agent with potent and selective antitumour properties and, in the form of its L-lysylamide prodrug Phortress (NSC 710305), is a current candidate for early phase clinical studies. Previous findings have indicated that cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1) may play a role in the antitumour activity of molecules in the benzothiazole series including the nonfluorinated parent compound 2-(4-amino-3-methylphenyl)benzothiazole (DF 203, NSC 674495) (Kashiyama et al, 1999; Chua et al, 2000; Loaiza-Pérez et al, 2002). In this study, we assessed and verified that a fully functional aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) signalling pathway is a necessary requisite for the induction of efficient cytotoxicity by 5F 203 in MCF-7 wild-type sensitive cells. Drug exposure caused MCF-7 sensitive cells to arrest in G(1) and S phase, and induced DNA adduct formation, in contrast to AhR-deficient AH(R100) variant MCF-7 cells. In sensitive MCF-7 cells, induction of CYP1A1 and CYP1B1 transcription (measured by luciferase reporter assay and real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)), and 7-ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity was demonstrated, following treatment with 5F 203. In contrast, in resistant AH(R100) cells, drug treatment did not affect CYP1A1 and CYP1B1 transcription and EROD activity. Furthermore, AH(R100) cells failed to produce either protein/DNA complexes on the xenobiotic responsive element (XRE) sequence of CYP1A1 promoter (measured by electrophoretic mobility shift assay) or DNA adducts. The data confirm that activation of the AhR signalling pathway is an important feature of the antitumour activity of 5F 203.