A series of benzimidazo[2,1-a]isoquinolines with carboxamide side chains at the 1-, 6-, 9- and 11-positions were prepared, in order to study the biological effects of varying the position of the side chain in this tetracyclic series. The 6-, 9- and 11-analogues were obtained by modifications to published chemistry. The 1-carboxamide analogue was obtained via a one-pot isocoumarin/isoquinolone conversion of 3-methylisocoumarin-8-carboxylic acid with o-phenylenediamine in buffered aqueous acid, which gave the required 1-acid. The compounds were evaluated in a panel of cell lines in culture. The 6-carboxamides, where the side chain is attached to one of the central rings, were not active, but the 1- and 11-carboxamides, where the side chain is attached to one of the terminal rings off the chromophore short axis, were reasonably cytotoxic (IC50s < 1 microM). Overall, the structure-activity relationships are broadly in line with those seen with other tri- and tetracyclic carboxamides, and are consistent with recent crystal structure studies of acridine-4-carboxamides bound to DNA. The most potent 1-carboxamide was highly active in vivo against s.c. colon 38 tumours in mice, providing a growth delay of 12 days.