N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), which undergoes extensive biotransformation, has been shown in vivo to cause developmental toxicity and, especially after oral treatment, malformations in rats and rabbits. Data are lacking as to whether the original compound or one of its main metabolites is responsible for the toxic effects observed. Therefore, the relative embryotoxicity of the parent compound and its metabolites was evaluated using rat whole embryo culture (WEC) and the balb/c 3T3 cytotoxicity test. The resulting data were evaluated using two strategies; namely, one based on using all endpoints determined in the WEC and the other including endpoints from both the WEC and the cytotoxicity test. On basis of the first analysis, the substance with the highest embryotoxic potential is NMP, followed by 5-hydroxy-N-methyl-pyrrolidone (5-HNMP), 2-hydroxy-N-methylsuccinimide (2-HMSI) and N-methylsuccinimide (MSI). Specific dysmorphogeneses induced by NMP and 5-HNMP were aberrations in the head region of the embryos, abnormal development of the second visceral arches and open neural pores. The second evaluation strategy used only two endpoints of the WEC, i.e. the no observed adverse effect concentration (NOAECWEC) and the lowest concentration leading to dysmorphogenesis in 100% of the cultured embryos (ICMax WEC). In addition to these WEC endpoints the IC50 3T3 from the cytotoxicity test (balb/c 3T3 fibroblasts) was included in the evaluation scheme. These three endpoints were applied to a prediction model developed during a validation study of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) allowing the classification of the embryotoxic potential of each compound into three classes (non-, weakly- and strongly embryotoxic). Consistent results from both evaluation strategies were observed, whereby NMP and its metabolites revealed a direct embryotoxic potential. Hereby, only NMP and 5-HNMP induced specific embryotoxic effects and were classified as weakly embryotoxic, whereas the other two metabolites, 2-HMSI and MSI, were determined to be non-embryotoxic.