The metabolism, cytotoxicity, and genotoxicity of streptonigrin (SN) w ere determined in two human colon carcinoma cell lines: HT-29 with high NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase (EC 220.127.116.11, DTD) activity and BE with undetectable DTD activity. Dicumarol-sensitive oxidation of NADH was observed with HT-29 cytosol, but not with BE cytosol. Oxygen consumption was also observed using HT-29 cytosol, but was absent with BE cytosol. Dicumarol inhibited oxygen consumption with HT-29 cytosol, but deferoxamine had no effect, suggesting that divalent metal cations were not necessary for efficient auto-oxidation of SN hydroquinone. In cytotoxicity studies, SN was much more toxic to the DTD-rich HT-29 cells than to the DTD-deficient BE cells. Deferoxamine decreased toxicity in both cell lines, implicating hydroxyl radicals produced during Fenton-type reactions as the toxic species. In the genotoxicity assay, SN induced a much higher incidence of DNA strand breaks in HT-29 cells than in BE cells, and deferoxamine protected against DNA strand breaks in both cell lines. Some evidence of DNA repair was also observed in the two cell lines. These results support an important role for DTD in the cytotoxicity of SN in the high DTD HT-29 colon carcinoma cell line.