A variety of different 4-substituted 1,4-dihydropyridine Hantzsch esters are substrates for ring dehydrogenation by a cytochrome P-450 (P-450) enzyme (P-450 UT-A); the substitutent could be varied from a hydrogen to a naphthalenyl, but a pyrenyl derivative was not dehydrogenated. When a 4-alkyl group is present, both the P-450 which oxidizes the substrate and other P-450s can be inactivated (by putative alkyl radicals). P-450s did not discriminate with regard to removal of the 4-H atoms from an enantiomeric pair of dihydropyridines. Losses of the 4-proton and N-methyl from a N-methyl-1,4-dihydropyridine occur at similar rates. The calculated intrinsic kinetic hydrogen isotope effect (Dk) for dehydrogenation of 1,4-dihydro-2,6-dimethyl-4-phenyl-3,5-pyridinedicarboxylic acid dimethyl ester was 2.9 in a reconstituted P-450 UT-A enzyme system. No significant kinetic hydrogen isotope effect was observed in microsomal incubations for the dehydrogenation of this compound or 1,4-dihydro-2,6-dimethyl-3,5-pyridinedicarboxylic acid diethyl ester in a variety of competitive and noncompetitive experiments. In light of previous studies on the magnitude of kinetic hydrogen isotope effects in P-450 systems (e.g. Miwa et al., 1983 (Miwa, G. T., Walsh, J. S., Kedderis, G. L., and Hollenberg, P. F. (1983) J. Biol. Chem. 258, 14445-14449], the mechanistic proposals of Augusto et al., 1982 (Augusto, O., Beilan, H. S., and Ortiz de Montellano, P. R. (1982) J. Biol. Chem. 257, 11288-11295)) for enzyme inactivation by 4-alkyl-substituted Hantzsch pyridine esters, and other precedents for sequential electron transfer in amine oxidation by P-450s, we interpret these results as being consistent with P-450-mediated 1-electron oxidation of dihydropyridines followed by the facile loss of the 4-proton, with subsequent electron transfer to complete the reaction.