The enzyme cytochrome P450 11A1 cleaves the C20-C22 carbon-carbon bond of cholesterol to form pregnenolone, the first 21-carbon precursor of all steroid hormones. Various reaction mechanisms are possible for the carbon-carbon bond cleavage step of P450 11A1, and most current proposals involve the oxoferryl active species, Compound I (FeO(3+)). Compound I can either (i) abstract an O-H hydrogen atom or (ii) be attacked by a nucleophilic hydroxy group of its substrate, 20R,22R-dihydroxycholesterol. The mechanism of this carbon-carbon bond cleavage step was tested using (18)O-labeled molecular oxygen and purified P450 11A1. P450 11A1 was incubated with 20R,22R-dihydroxycholesterol in the presence of molecular oxygen ((18)O2), and coupled assays were used to trap the labile (18)O atoms in the enzymatic products (i.e., isocaproaldehyde and pregnenolone). The resulting products were derivatized and the (18)O content was analyzed by high-resolution mass spectrometry. P450 11A1 showed no incorporation of an (18)O atom into either of its carbon-carbon bond cleavage products, pregnenolone and isocaproaldehyde . The positive control experiments established retention of the carbonyl oxygens in the enzymatic products during the trapping and derivatization processes. These results reveal a mechanism involving an electrophilic Compound I species that reacts with nucleophilic hydroxy groups in the 20R,22R-dihydroxycholesterol intermediate of the P450 11A1 reaction to produce the key steroid pregnenolone.