We compared the cytotoxicity of the bioreductive antitumor agents mitomycin C (MMC) and streptonigrin (SN) with or without the DT-diaphorase (DTD) inducer dimethyl fumarate (DMF) in four human glioblastoma cell lines with the conventional chemotherapeutic agent, 1,3-bis(2-chloroethyl)-1-nitrosourea (BCNU). We also examined four other types of cancer cells to compare with glioblastoma cells. Cytotoxicity was measured with the sulforhodamine B (SRB) assay and was represented by 50% inhibition concentration (IC50). Enzymatic activities of DTD, cytochrome b5 reductase and glutathione-S-transferase (GST) in cells were measured spectrophotometrically. IC50 for BCNU was in a range of 28-300 microM in the glioblastoma cell lines. Glioblastoma cells were more sensitive to MMC or SN than to BCNU. Pretreatment with DMF significantly increased cytotoxicity of MMC and SN in glioblastoma cell lines and the NCI-H1299 lung cancer cell line, but had no effect on BCNU cytotoxicity. DMF significantly increased DTD and cytochrome b5 reductase activity, and decreased GST in three of four glioblastoma cell lines. Addition of the DTD inhibitor, dicumarol, significantly inhibited cytotoxicity of MMC and SN, and reversed the increased cytotoxicity seen when DMF was combined with either MMC or SN in all glioblastoma cell lines. Combining inducers of DTD and cytochrome b5 reductase with bioreductive agents may be a potential therapeutic strategy for glioblastoma.