We used in situ hybridization to examine organ- and cell type-specific constitutive and 3-methylcholanthrene (3MC)-inducible cytochrome P450 (CYP)1A1 and CYP1A2 mRNA expression in various tissues of the C57BL/6N mouse. In situ hybridization was carried out 10 hr after the mice had received intraperitoneal 3MC, or vehicle alone. We detected levels of 3MC-induced CYP1A1 mRNA in: liver (centrilobular, more so than periportal, regions); lung (Clara Type II cells much more than Type I epithelial cells); brain, especially endothelial cells lining the vascular surface of the choroid plexus; the digestive tract (duodenum > jejunum > ileum > colon > esophagus > stomach--in particular, the villous epithelium, plus cells surrounding glands in the lamina propria); renal corpuscles of the kidney; the ovary (medulla more so than cortex); and the endothelial cells of blood vessels throughout the animal. Constitutive CYP1A1 mRNA was not detectable by in situ hybridization in any of these tissues. In contrast, constitutive CYP1A2 mRNA was measurable in liver, and 3MC-inducible CYP1A2 mRNA was observed only in liver, lung, and duodenum (having cell-type locations similar to those of CYP1A1); the other above-mentioned tissues were negative for CYP1A2 mRNA. These data demonstrate the striking differences in tissue- and cell type-specific expression between the two members of the mouse Cypla subfamily. Because of the ubiquitous nature of 3MC-inducible CYP1A1 throughout the animal rather than just "portals of entry," these results support our hypothesis that CYP1A1, induced by particular endogenous signals in various tissues and cell types, might participate in one or more critical life processes--in addition to its well-established role of metabolism of polycyclic hydrocarbons, certain drugs, and other environmental pollutants.