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Testosterone 6beta-hydroxylation is a prototypic reaction of cytochrome P450 (P450) 3A4, the major human P450. Biomimetic reactions produced a variety of testosterone oxidation products with 6beta-hydroxylation being only a minor reaction, indicating that P450 3A4 has considerable control over the course of steroid hydroxylation because 6beta-hydroxylation is not dominant in a thermodynamically controlled oxidation of the substrate. Several isotopically labeled testosterone substrates were prepared and used to probe the catalytic mechanism of P450 3A4: (i) 2,2,4,6,6-(2)H(5); (ii) 6,6-(2)H(2); (iii) 6alpha-(2)H; (iv) 6beta-(2)H; and (v) 6beta-(3)H testosterone. Only the 6beta-hydrogen was removed by P450 3A4 and not the 6alpha, indicating that P450 3A4 abstracts hydrogen and rebounds oxygen only at the beta face. Analysis of the rates of hydroxylation of 6beta-(1)H-, 6beta-(2)H-, and 6beta-(3)H-labeled testosterone and application of the Northrop method yielded an apparent intrinsic kinetic deuterium isotope effect ((D)k) of 15. The deuterium isotope effects on k(cat) and k(cat)/K(m) in non-competitive reactions were only 2-3. Some "switching" to other hydroxylations occurred because of 6beta-(2)H substitution. The high (D)k value is consistent with an initial hydrogen atom abstraction reaction. Attenuation of the high (D)k in the non-competitive experiments implies that C-H bond breaking is not a dominant rate-limiting step. Considerable attenuation of a high (D)k value was also seen with a slower P450 3A4 reaction, the O-dealkylation of 7-benzyloxyquinoline. Thus P450 3A4 is an enzyme with regioselective flexibility but also considerable regioselectivity and stereoselectivity in product formation, not necessarily dominated by the ease of C-H bond breaking.