SR 4233 (3-amino-1,2,4-benzotriazine-1,4-dioxide) is a novel benzotriazine di-N-oxide which shows unusually high selective toxicity towards hypoxic cells, probably as a result of reductive bioactivation. Using an HPLC assay for the parent drug and its 2- and 4-electron reduction products (SR 4317 and SR 4330, respectively), we have examined the enzymology of SR 4233 reductive metabolism in vitro using a variety of different enzyme preparations. SR 4233 was converted extremely rapidly to SR 4317 under N2 by mouse liver microsomes, and showed a marked preference for NADPH over NADH as a reduced cofactor. The reaction was inhibited completely in air and boiled preparations. It was also inhibited by 78-86% in carbon monoxide (CO), implicating cytochrome P-450 as the major microsomal SR 4233 reductase. The kinetics of reductive metabolism of SR 4233 to SR 4317 by mouse liver microsomes conformed to Michaelis-Menten kinetics, with a Km of 1.4 mM and a Vmax of 950 nmol/min/mg protein. SR 4233 reduction was also catalysed by mouse liver cytosol under N2. However, rates were markedly slower than for microsomes and showed an equal dependency on NADH and NADPH. The cytosolic enzymes aldehyde oxidase and xanthine oxidase both catalysed SR 4233 reduction to SR 4317 under N2. Purified buttermilk xanthine oxidase also catalysed this reaction. In contrast to other enzyme preparations, DT-diaphorase from Walker 256 tumour cells reduced SR 4233 predominantly to SR 4330, and this reaction occurred under aerobic conditions. These data illustrate that SR 4233 is reduced rapidly by a wide variety of reductases. We propose that the therapeutic selectivity of SR 4233 will be controlled by the relative expression of reductases in tumour versus normal tissues, and in particular by the differential participation of putative activating versus detoxifying enzymes.