The effect of the O6-alkylguanine-DNA alkyltransferase (AGT) inhibitor, O6-benzylguanine (O6-BG), on the anti-tumour activity of 8-carbamoyl-3-methylimidazo [5,1-d]-1,2,3,5-tetrazine-4(3H)-one (temozolomide) or 1,3-bis(2-chloroethyl)-nitrosourea (BCNU) was evaluated in athymic mice bearing subcutaneous (s.c.) human glioma (U87MG) xenografts. The activity of AGT in U87MG xenografts was 4.3 +/- 1.5 fmol mg-1 protein (mean +/- s.d). These xenografts were inherently sensitive to treatment with alkylating compounds alone, with non-toxic doses of temozolomide (35 mg kg-1) or BCNU (10 mg kg-1) producing tumour growth delays of 23.3 and 11.8 days respectively. O6-BG (40 mg kg-1) did not inhibit tumour growth when administered alone, but was found to enhance significantly the anti-tumour activity of temozolomide or BCNU when administered 1 h before therapy (P < 0.002, Mann-Whitney test). AGT activity measured 24 h after the administration of 40 mg kg-1 O6-BG, was only 0.9 +/- 0.2 fmol mg-1 protein. These results are in contrast to previous studies in vitro with tumour cell lines of low AGT activity (< 15 fmol mg-1 protein), in which the cytotoxicity of temozolomide or BCNU was unaffected by AGT depletion.