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Tirapazamine (SR 4233), a bioreductive drug selectively toxic towards hypoxic cells, is presently in phase II clinical trials. Since it would not be expected that all tumours would respond equally to the drug, we are exploring ways of predicting the response of individual tumours. In this study we have tested whether the comet assay, which measures DNA damage in individual cells, can provide a simple, surrogate end point for cell killing by tirapazamine. We examined the relationship between the cytotoxicity of tirapazamine under hypoxic conditions and tirapazamine-induced DNA strand breaks in murine (SCCVII, EMT6, RIF-1) and human (HT1080, A549, HT29) tumour cell lines. These results were compared with the relationship between tirapazamine cytotoxicity and another measure of the ability of cells to metabolise tirapazamine; high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) analysis of tirapazamine loss or formation of the two electron reduction product SR 4317. The correlation between the hypoxic cytotoxic potency of tirapazamine and DNA damage was highly significant (r = 0.905, P = 0.013). A similar correlation was observed for hypoxic potency and tirapazamine loss (r = 0.812, P = 0.050), while the correlation between hypoxic potency and SR 4317 formation was not significant (r = 0.634, P = 0.171). The hypoxic cytotoxicity of tirapazamine in vitro can therefore be predicted by measuring tirapazamine-induced DNA damage using the comet assay. This approach holds promise for predicting the response of individual tumours to tirapazamine in the clinic.