The mutagenic and toxic effects of a series of N-alkyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidines were examined in Escherichia coli K-12. The role of nucleotide excision repair, the SOS response, and the adaptive response in both the reduction and the production of the biological effects of these chemicals was tested. The effects of ethyl-nitrosoguanidine are similar in nucleotide excision repair-proficient and -deficient strains, but both the mutagenicity and the toxicity of alkyl groups larger than two carbons are significantly reduced by the presence of this repair system. Similarly, when alkyl groups are larger than two carbons, the umuC gene product is essential for the production of a fraction of the mutations that these lesions produce. The induction of the adaptive response had a significant effect on the toxicity of all of the chemicals tested, but its effect on mutagenicity was less uniform, having a larger effect on ethylating and propylating agents than on butylating and amylating agents.