Methylisocyanate (MIC) induced mutagenic responses in the absence of exogenous activation in the mouse lymphoma cell forward mutation assay at concentrations as low as 8-24 microM. MIC produced predominantly small mutant colonies, suggesting the possibility of clastogenic activity. The intermediate hydrolysis product, methylamine, was also mutagenic without exogenous activation but required several hundred-fold higher concentrations (ca. 3 mM). N,N'-Dimethylurea, the final product in the reaction of methylisocyanate and water, was totally refractory in either the presence or absence of S9 for concentrations up to 57 mM (5 mg/ml). The ethyl ester of N-methylcarbamic acid was also tested since it was the only available analogue to the highly reactive N-methylcarbamic acid intermediate. This compound was mutagenic only in the presence of S9 at doses exceeding 5-40 microM, which suggested the possibility that the free acid, produced by enzymatic hydrolysis, is also mutagenic. The mutagenic activity of the ester resulted solely in the production of small mutant colonies.