The present studies were initiated to quantitate the oxygen dependence of bioreductive metabolism-induced binding of EF5, a pentafluorinated derivative of the 2-nitroimidazole, etanidazole. Two different assays were compared: first, radioactive drug incorporation into cell lysates, which provides a direct measure of drug metabolism or uptake; second, monoclonal antibody detection of cellular macromolecular adducts of EF5 after whole cell permeabilisation and fixing. The antibodies (a single clone designated ELK3-51) were conjugated with the fluorescent dye Cy3, with fluorescence determined by fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. For the two cell lines tested (V79 Chinese hamster fibroblasts and 9L rat glioma), the oxygen dependence of binding was found to be the same for the two techniques. Using the antibody binding technique, the fluorescence signal was highly reproducible between experiments, resistant to light or chemical bleaching and stable over time following cell or tissue staining. Flow cytometric analysis of cells from rat 9L tumours treated with EF5 in vivo or in vitro showed a distribution of fluorescent signal which was very compatible, on both a relative and absolute basis, with the in vitro results. Our results indicate that immunofluorescent techniques provide a quantitative assay for bioreductive drug adducts, and therefore may be able to measure the absolute oxygen concentration distribution in cell populations and tissues of interest.