5-(Aziridin-1-yl)-2,4-dinitrobenzamide (CB 1954), a promising anti-tumour compound, is associated with clinical hepatotoxicity. We have previously demonstrated that human liver preparations are capable of endogenous 2- and 4-nitroreduction of CB 1954 to generate highly potent cytotoxins. The present study initially examined the in vitro metabolism of CB 1954 in S9 preparations of several non-clinical species and strains. The CD-1 nu/nu mouse and Sprague-Dawley rat were subsequently chosen for further assessment of in vivo metabolism and hepatotoxicity of CB 1954, as well as the mechanisms that may be involved. Animals were administered the maximum tolerated dose (MTD). At 562 micromol/kg, the mouse exhibited transaminase elevation and centrilobular hepatocyte injury. Moreover, thiol adducts as well as hepatic glutathione depletion paralleled temporally by maximal nitroreduction were observed. The rat had a much lower MTD of 40 micromol/kg and showed signs of gastro-intestinal disturbances. In contrast to mouse, peri-portal damage and biliary changes were observed in rat without any alterations in plasma biomarkers or hepatic glutathione levels. Immunohistochemical analysis did not reveal any correlation between the location of injury and expression of cytochrome P450 reductase and NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase 1, two enzymes implicated in the bioactivation of this drug. In conclusion, the present study showed that following administration of CB 1954 at the respective MTDs, hepatotoxicity was observed in both mouse and rat. However, the degree of sensitivity to the drug and the mechanisms of toxicity involved appear to be widely different between CD-1 nu/nu mice and Sprague-Dawley rats.