The metabolism of SR 4233 (3-amino-1,2,4-bentotriazine-1,4-dioxide), recently reported as highly toxic to hypoxic cells in vitro, was studied by using suspensions of Chinese hamster ovary cells. The rates of formation of two known reduction products, the 1-oxide and the unoxygenated 3-aminobenzotriazine, were measured in aerobic and hypoxic cell suspensions for drug treatments producing both hypoxic and aerobic cytotoxicity. Formation of the 1-oxide and a small amount of the 3-aminobenzotriazine occurred preferentially in hypoxic suspensions. These metabolites were relatively nontoxic to either aerobic or hypoxic cells, implying another mechanism of toxicity. The activation of SR 4233 by single electron transfer, hypothetically forming a toxic drug radical, was explored. Aerobic stimulation of oxygen consumption in respiration-inhibited cells and malondialdehyde release from aerobic cells in the presence of SR 4233 indicated the formation of active oxygen species during drug activation. Increased malondialdehyde release in hypoxic cells and its attenuation by the hydrogen donor, dimethylthiourea, implied the presence of an oxidizing radical. Unlike the nitroimidazole, misonidazole, hypoxic metabolism of SR 4233 did not deplete intracellular glutathione or result in increased binding of drug metabolites to cellular macromolecules. These results are consistent with macromolecular damage caused by an oxygen sensitive, nonbinding, drug-free radical intermediate with oxidizing properties as the mechanism of selective hypoxic toxicity of SR 4233.