The metabolism of oestradiol and 17α-ethinyloestradiol to their 2-hydroxy derivatives is an important determinant in their biological effects. In this work, we have investigated which rat or human cytochrome P-450 isoenzymes are involved in catalysing these reactions. Oestradiol 2-hydroxylation was catalysed by a wide variety of rat cytochrome P-450s from gene families P450IA, P450IIB, P450IIC and P450IIA. Interestingly, 17α-ethinyloestradiol, which only differs structurally from oestradiol at a position distant from the site of oxidation, was metabolized predominantly by members of the P450IIC gene subfamily. In order to establish which enzymes are responsible for the oxidation of these substrates in man, antibodies to rat liver cytochrome P-450 isoenzymes were used to inhibit these reactions in a panel of human liver microsomal fractions. Also, possible correlations between the proteins recognized by the antibodies and the 2-hydroxylation rate were determined. These experiments provide evidence that 2-hydroxylation of 17α-ethinyloestradiol in man is catalysed by cytochromes from the P450IIC, P450IIE and P450IIIA gene families. In contrast, the major proteins involved in oestradiol metabolism are from the P450IA gene family, although members of the P450IIC and P450IIE gene families may also play a role. These data demonstrate that the differences in the capacity of rat P-450s to metabolize these substrates are also present in the comparable enzymes involved in man, and that a variety of factors will determine the rate of disposition of these compounds in man.