Cytochrome P450 19A1 (P450 19A1), the aromatase, catalyzes the conversion of androgens to estrogens through a sequential three-step reaction, generating 19-hydroxy and 19-aldehyde intermediates en route to the product estrogen. A procedure for the heterologous expression and purification of P450 19A1 in Escherichia coli was developed (k(cat) of 0.06 s(-1) for the conversion of androstenedione to estrone). Binding of the substrate and intermediates show low micromolar dissociation constants and are at least two-step processes. Rates of reduction of the iron were fast in the presence of substrate, either intermediate, or product. P450 19A1 is a distributive rather than a processive enzyme, with the sequential reaction allowing free dissociation of the intermediates as revealed by pulse-chase experiments. Conversion of androstenedione to estrone (under single turnover conditions) generated a progress curve showing changes in the concentrations of the substrate, intermediates, and product. A minimal kinetic model containing the individual rate constants for the steps in P450 19A1 catalysis was developed to globally fit the time course of the overall reaction, the dissociation constants, the two-step ligand binding, the distributive character, the iron-reduction rates, and the steady-state conversion of the 19-hydroxy androstenedione and 19-aldehyde androstenedione intermediates to estrone.