A nitroreductase enzyme has been isolated from Escherichia coli B. This enzyme is an FMN-containing flavoprotein with a molecular mass of 24 kDa and requires either NADH or NADPH as a cofactor. Partial protein sequence analysis showed extensive homology with the "classical nitroreductase" of Salmonella typhimurium and a nitroreductase induced in Enterobacter cloacae. In common with the Salmonella enzyme, the E. coli B enzyme is capable of reducing nitrofurazone. The E. coli nitroreductase is also capable of reducing the anti-tumour agent CB1954 [5-(aziridin-1-yl)-2,4-dinitrobenzamide], a property shared with the mammalian enzyme DT diaphorase [NAD(P)H dehydrogenase (quinone)] as isolated from Walker cells. The reduction of CB1954 by the E. coli enzyme results in the generation of cytotoxic species. Both enzymes also share the properties of being able to reduce quinones and are both inhibited by dicoumarol. The nitroreductase is a more active enzyme against CB1954 (kcat = 360 min-1) than Walker DT diaphorase (kcat = 4 min-1) and also has a lower Km for NADH (6 vs 75 microM).