Altered cytochrome P450-catalyzed metabolism of 17beta-estradiol (E2) and estrone (E1) in the liver and (or) extrahepatic tissues may affect estrogen-sensitive tumorigenesis. We examined the effects of oral treatments of (i) indole-3-carbinol (13C) at 250 or 500 mg/kg or beta-naphthoflavone (beta-NF) at 40 mg/kg of body weight (bw)/day from 51 to 54 days of age (acute regimen), and (ii) 13C at 250 mg/kg or beta-NF at 20 mg/kg bw given 3x/week from 10 to 22 weeks of age (chronic regimen) in female Sprague-Dawley rats. We determined the effects of these treatments on the P450 content and P450 (CYP)-specific activities in the liver, P450-dependent metabolism of E2 and E1 by the liver and mammary gland, and interconversion of E1 and E2 catalyzed by 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17beta-HSD) in these tissues and malignant mammary tumors. 13C at the two levels of acute regimen elicited similar responses. Acute and chronic treatments with 13C, but not beta-NF, increased P450 content approximately 2-fold. 13C, and to a lesser extent beta-NF, increased CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 probe activities in liver up to 117- and 27- fold, respectively, and after acute regimens, that of CYP3A by approximately 1.8-fold. 13C also increased activity of CYP2B up to 100-fold. Overall hepatic metabolism of E2 and E1, which was approximately 2-fold greater at 55 than 155 days of age, was increased (approximately 2.8-fold) by 13C with 2-, 4-, 16alpha-, 6alpha-, 6beta-, and 15alpha-hydroxy (OH) comprising > or = 54, 3, 2, approximately 2, approximately 5, 7, and 2%, respectively, of E1 and E2 metabolites. Acute regimens of beta-NF increased 2- and 15alpha-OH-E2 (62 and 5% of total) from E2 and 2-, 4-, and 6alpha-OH-E1 + 6beta-OH-E1 (32, 13, and 4% of total) from E1. Mammary gland metabolized E2 to E1 and small amounts of 15alpha-, 4-, 16alpha-, 6beta-, and 6alpha-OH-E2. After the acute IC3 regimen, E2 was also converted to 2-OH-E2. 17Beta-HSD-catalyzed oxidation of E2 was favored in the liver and reduction of E1 was favored in mammary gland and tumor (= 1% of hepatic activity). An increased (approximately 2-fold) ratio of reductive to oxidative activities in malignant mammary tumors by chronic 13C regimen may stimulate tumor growth. This is the first report showing that after chronic oral regimens, the 13C-, but not beta-NF-, induced changes in CYP complement led to elevated E2 and E1 metabolism. The persistent effects of increased putative carcinogenic and estrogenic 4- and 16alpha-OH as well as 6alpha- and 6beta-OH-E2 and 6beta-OH-E1 might counteract those of the less estrogenic 2-OH metabolites, thus accounting for the lack of suppression of mammary tumorigenesis by 13C in our previous study.