3-Amino-1,2,4-benzotriazine-1,4-dioxide (SR 4233; WIN 59075) is a highly selective hypoxic cell cytotoxin soon to enter phase I clinical trial. The compound is thought to exert its action through a toxic one-electron reduced free radical intermediate. Preliminary data have suggested that SR 4233 may be metabolized by DT-diaphorase [NAD(P)H: (quinone acceptor) oxidoreductase (EC 220.127.116.11)] to both two- and four-electron reduced products and that this route of biotransformation may represent a bioprotection pathway. In this study, a highly purified enzyme preparation was employed in order to investigate further the metabolism of SR 4233 by DT-diaphorase and to examine the mechanism of reduction in more detail. Spectrophotometric analysis showed that SR 4233 underwent reduction by DT-diaphorase with an apparent Km of 1.23 +/- 0.27 mM and Vmax of 8.55 +/- 1.67 nmol/min/microgram protein. This reaction was inhibited completely by dicoumarol (100 microM) and partially by an antiserum raised against the purified enzyme. Characterization of the products of SR 4233 reduction by reverse-phase HPLC confirmed that both two- (SR 4317) and four- (SR 4330) electron reduction products were generated, the latter being the predominant metabolite, particularly in prolonged incubations. Further experiments showed that the four-electron reduction product, but not the two-electron reduction product, was also a substrate for DT-diaphorase with an apparent Km of 1.14 mM and a Vmax of 57.12 nmol/min/micrograms protein. The results presented confirm that SR 4233 is indeed a substrate for DT-diaphorase and that a mixture of two-, four- and six-electron reduced products may be formed. The possible toxicological and pharmacodynamic significance of this metabolism is discussed.