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Determining the capability of humans to metabolize the mononitropyrene (mono-NP) isomers 1-, 2-, and 4-NP and understanding which human cytochrome P450 (P450) enzymes are involved in their activation and/or detoxification is important in the assessment of individual susceptibility to these environmental carcinogens. We compared the ability of 15 human hepatic and 8 pulmonary microsomal samples to metabolize each of the three isomers. Human hepatic microsomes were competent in metabolizing all three isomers. Qualitatively similar metabolic patterns were observed, although at much lower levels, upon incubating mono-NP with pulmonary microsomes. Ring-oxidized metabolites (phenols and trans-dihydrodiols) were produced from all three isomers. However, the nitroreductive metabolism leading to the formation of aminopyrene was evident only with 4-NP. The role of specific P450 enzymes in the human hepatic microsomal metabolism of mono-NP was investigated by correlating the P450-dependent catalytic activities in each microsomal sample with the levels of individual metabolites formed by the same microsomes and by examining the effects of agents that can either inhibit or stimulate specific P450 enzymes in mono-NP metabolism. On the basis of these studies, we attribute most of the hepatic microsomal metabolism of 1- and 4-NP to P450 3A4, although a minor role for P450 1A2 cannot be ruled out. Specifically, P450 3A4 was responsible for the formation of 3-hydroxy-1nitropyrene from 1-NP and the formation of trans-9,10-dihydro-9,10dihydroxy-4-nitropyrene, 9(10)-hydroxy-4-nitropyrene, and 4-aminopyrene from 4-NP. None of the P450 enzymes examined (P450s 3A4, 1A2, 2E1, 2A6, 2D6, and 2C9) appeared to be involved in catalyzing the formation of trans-4,5-dihydro-4,5-dihydroxy-2-nitropyrene and 6-hydroxy-2-nitropyrene from 2-NP in human hepatic microsomes. These results, the first report on the comparative metabolism of mono-NP in humans, clearly demonstrate that the role of specific human P450 enzymes in catalyzing oxidative and reductive pathways of mono-NP is dependent upon the position of the nitro group.