The oral anticoagulant acenocoumarol is given as a racemic mixture. The (S)-enantiomer is rapidly cleared and is the reason why only (R)-acenocoumarol contributes to the pharmacological effect. The objective of the study was to establish the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes catalyzing the hydroxylations of the acenocoumarol enantiomers. Of various cDNA-expressed human CYPs, only CYP2C9 hydroxylated (S)-acenocoumarol. Hydroxylation occurred at the 6-, 7-, and 8-position with equal K(m) values and a ratio of 0.9:1:0.1 for V(max). CYP2C9 also mediated the 6-, 7-, and 8-hydroxylations of (R)-acenocoumarol with K(m) values three to four times and V(max) values one-sixth times those of (S)-acenocoumarol. (R)-Acenocoumarol was also metabolized by CYP1A2 (6-hydroxylation) and CYP2C19 (6-, 7-, and 8-hydroxylation). In human liver microsomes one enzyme only catalyzed (S)-acenocoumarol hydroxylations with K(m) values < 1 microM. In most of the samples tested the 7-hydroxylation of (R)-acenocoumarol was also catalyzed by one enzyme only. The 6-hydroxylation was catalyzed by at least two enzymes. Sulfaphenazole could completely inhibit in a competitive way the hydroxylations of (S)-acenocoumarol and the 7-hydroxylation of (R)-acenocoumarol. The 6-hydroxylation of (R)-acenocoumarol could be partially inhibited by sulfaphenazole, 40 to 50%, and by furafylline, 20 to 30%. Significant mutual correlations were obtained between the hydroxylations of (S)-acenocoumarol, the 7-hydroxylation of (R)-acenocoumarol, the 7-hydroxylation of (S)-warfarin, and the methylhydroxylation of tolbutamide. The results demonstrate that (S)-acenocoumarol is hydroxylated by a single enzyme, namely CYP2C9. CYP2C9 is also the main enzyme in the 7-hydroxylation of (R)-acenocoumarol. Other enzymes involved in (R)-acenocoumarol hydroxylation reactions are CYP1A2 and CYP2C19. Drug interactions must be expected, particularly for drugs interfering with CYP2C9. Also, drugs interfering with CYP1A2 and CYP2C19 may potentiate acenocoumarol anticoagulant therapy.