The flavoenzyme DT-diaphorase has the potential either to bioactivate or to detoxify different bioreductive cytotoxins. Elucidation of structural features governing the ability to act as a substrate for DT-diaphorase should facilitate rational optimization or elimination of this reductive pathway for a particular class of bioreductive drug. We have examined structure-activity relationships governing both the cytotoxicity and the DT-diaphorase mediated reduction of two groups of bioreductive alkylating agents: (1) Indoloquinones related to EO9 [3-hydroxy-methyl-5-aziridinyl-1-methyl-2-(1H-indole-4,7-dione)prop-beta - en-alpha-ol]; and (2) derivatives of diaziridinyl benzoquinone or diaziquone [2,5-bis(carboethoxyamino)-3,6-diaziridinyl-1,4-benzoquinone]. The rat U.K. 256 Walker tumor cell line and the human HT29 colon carcinoma line were studied because of their high DT-diaphorase content. Enzyme activity was measured spectrophotometrically by dicoumarol inhibitable cytochrome c reduction in the presence of drug, and aerobic cytotoxicity was assessed by the MTT assay. EO9 acted as a good substrate for both enzyme preparations and was highly potent in each cell line, especially in Walker tumor cells (ID50 0.039 nM). AZQ was also reduced efficiently and gave an ID50 of 6 nM in the Walker tumor line. Slight modifications in structure resulted in large variations in both DT-diaphorase metabolism and toxicity for both types of agent. There was a clear tendency for the most efficiently reduced analogues to exhibit greater cytotoxic potency. Inclusion of an aziridine moiety in the structure appears to be desirable, but not essential, for both rapid reduction and cytotoxicity. There was no evidence of active site-directed enzyme inhibition.