An important feature of gene-directed enzyme-prodrug therapy is that prodrug activation can provide diffusible cytotoxic metabolites capable of generating a local bystander effect in tumours. Activation of the aziridinyl dinitrobenzamide CB 1954 by E. coli nitroreductase (NTR) provides a bystander effect assumed to be due to the potently cytotoxic 4-hydroxylamine metabolite. We show that there are four cytotoxic extracellular metabolites of CB 1954 in cultures of NTR-expressing tumour cells (the 2- and 4-hydroxylamines and their corresponding amines). The 4-hydroxylamine is the most cytotoxic in DNA crosslink repair defective cells, but the 2-amino derivative (CB 10-236) is of similar potency to the 4-hydroxylamine in human tumour cell lines. Importantly, CB 10-236 has much superior diffusion properties to the 4-hydroxylamine in multicellular layers grown from the SiHa human cervical carcinoma cell line. These results suggest that the 2-amine, not the 4-hydroxylamine, is the major bystander metabolite when CB 1954 is activated by NTR in tumours. The corresponding dinitrobenzamide nitrogen mustard SN 23862 is reduced by NTR to form a single extracellular metabolite (also the 2-amine), which has superior cytotoxic potency and diffusion properties to the CB 1954 metabolites. These results are consistent with the reported high bystander efficiency of SN 23862 as an NTR prodrug in multicellular layers and tumour xenografts.