17 beta-Estradiol (E2) is a potent stimulator of certain forms of breast cancer. The final step of E2 biosynthesis is catalyzed by the estrogenic 17 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17 beta-HSD1), which is an important target for anti-cancer drugs. X-ray crystallography indicated that the binding site for the steroids has a tunnel-like shape. We have used a Monte Carlo-Minimization (MCM) protocol to explore possibilities of interactions of E2 with the binding site tunnel of 17 beta-HSD1. The enzyme was represented by flexible residues having at least one atom within 6 A from either E2 or NADP (as seen in a crystal ternary complex) and by rigid residues having at least one atom within 10 A from E2 or NADP. Special constraints were used to pull the substrate 10 A along the tunnel with 1 A step; the complex was MCM-optimized at each position of the steroid. The optimal binding mode of E2 in 17 beta-HSD agrees with the crystallographic data; however, wide and flat minima of the MCM profile suggest alternative modes of the steroid binding. The advance of the steroid along the tunnel is accompanied by essential conformational rearrangements of the enzyme side chains, noticeable rotation of the substrate along its longitudinal axis, and certain conformational deformations of the substrate. The contributions of the enzyme residues and of the steroid atoms to the intermolecular energy were estimated.