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Evidence has been presented for auto-induced human cytochrome P450 3A enzyme involvement in the teratogenicity and clinical outcome of thalidomide due to oxidation to 5-hydroxythalidomide and subsequent metabolic activation in livers. In this study, more relevant human placenta preparations and placental BeWo cells showed low but detectable P450 3A4/5 mRNA expression and drug oxidation activities. Human placental microsomal fractions from three subjects showed detectable midazolam 1´- and 4-hydroxylation and thalidomide 5-hydroxylation activities. Human placental BeWo cells, cultured in the recommended media, also indicated detectable midazolam 1´- and 4-hydroxylation and thalidomide 5-hydroxylation activities. To reduce any masking effects by endogenous hormones used in the recommended media, induction of P450 3A4/5 mRNA and oxidation activities were measured in placental BeWo cells cultured with a modified medium containing 5% charcoal-stripped fetal bovine serum. Thalidomide significantly induced P450 3A4/5, 2B6, and pregnane X receptor (PXR) mRNA levels 2 to 3-fold, but rifampicin only enhanced P450 3A5 and PXR mRNA under the modified media conditions. Under these modified conditions, thalidomide also significantly induced midazolam 1´-hydroxylation and thalidomide 5-hydroxylaion activities 3-fold but not bupropion hydroxylation activity. Taken together, activation of thalidomide to 5-hydroxythalidomide with autoinduction of P450 3A enzymes in human placentas, as well as livers, is suggested in vivo.