Since bacterial nitroreduction may play a critical role in the activation of nitropolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, we have used batch and semicontinuous culture systems to determine the ability of intestinal microflora to metabolize the carcinogen 6-nitrochrysene (6-NC). 6-NC was metabolized by the intestinal microflora present in the semicontinuous culture system to 6-aminochrysene (6-AC), N-formyl-6-aminochrysene (6-FAC), and 6-nitrosochrysene (6-NOC). These metabolites were isolated and identified by high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, and UV-visible spectrophotometry and compared with authentic compounds. Almost all of the 6-NC was metabolized after 10 days. Nitroreduction of 6-NC to 6-AC was rapid; the 6-AC concentration reached a maximum at 48 h. The ratio of the formation of 6-AC to 6-FAC to 6-NOC at 48 h was 93.4:6.3:0.3. Interestingly, compared with results in the semicontinuous culture system, the only metabolite detected in the batch studies was 6-AC. The rate of nitroreduction differed among human, rat, and mouse intestinal microflora, with human intestinal microflora metabolizing 6-NC to the greatest extent. Since 6-AC has been shown to be carcinogenic in mice and since nitroso derivatives of other nitropolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are biologically active, our results suggest that the intestinal microflora has the enzymatic capacity to generate genotoxic compounds and may play an important role in the carcinogenicity of 6-NC.