Nitroimidazole markers of tumour hypoxia bind to normoxic liver and the question has been raised whether this is due to low oxygen concentration or microregional activity of specialised nitroreductases. To answer this question, the binding patterns of the 2-nitroimidazole, pimonidazole, were compared following perfusion of surgically isolated rat livers in anterograde and retrograde directions. Perfusion at low flow rates in anterograde or retrograde directions can be used intentionally to alter oxygen gradients without altering enzyme distributions. Perfusion by means of the portal vein (anterograde direction) produced pimonidazole binding in the pericentral region of liver similar to that observed for pimonidazole binding in vivo. A complete reversal of this binding pattern occurred when the isolated liver was perfused by way of the central vein (retrograde direction). In this case, pimonidazole binding occurred in the periportal region. The extent and intensity of binding in the periportal region during perfusion in the retrograde direction was similar to that in the pericentral region during perfusion in the anterograde direction. It is concluded that low oxygen concentration rather than the non-homogeneous distribution of nitroreductase activity is the primary determinant of 2-nitroimidazole binding in liver.