The covalent binding of a series of 14C- or 35S-labeled benzimidazole-2-thione (MBI) derivatives to rat liver microsomal proteins was studied to determine the mechanisms of hepatic monooxygenase oxidation of model anti-hyperthyroid compounds. All thiocarbamides tested (including methimazole) produced an NADPH-dependent loss of cytochrome P450 (P450) chromophore which could be prevented by the addition of glutathione (GSH). The covalent binding of MBI to liver microsomal proteins from dexamethasone (DEX)-pretreated rats was enhanced 10-fold with NADPH, unaffected by P450 inactivation with 1-aminobenzotriazole (ABT) and attenuated by GSH addition. Heat treatment of microsomes to inactivate the flavin-containing monooxygenase (FMO) decreased the observed binding. Equivalent amounts of [35S]- and [14C]MBI were covalently bound to hepatic microsomal proteins, suggesting retention of both the carbon and sulfur portions of the molecule in the MBI/protein adduct. Thiophilic reagents effected release of covalently bound [14C]- and [35S]MBI in equal amounts suggesting the presence of disulfide bonds between an MBI-derived sulfenic acid and microsomal protein thiols. Coincubation with bovine serum albumin (BSA) resulted in NADPH-dependent binding of [14C]-MBI to BSA sulfhydryls which was blocked by prior treatment of BSA with iodoacetamide. 1-Methyl-benzimidazole-2-thione (MMBI) also covalently bound to microsomal proteins and BSA but at levels lower than with MBI. P450, however, appeared to be more important than FMO in the metabolism of MMBI based on the effects of microsome heat pretreatment or ABT addition. In addition, ca. 1.5-fold more 35S- than 14C-label became bound. The covalent binding of [35S]1,3-dimethyl-benzimidazole-2-thione (DMMBI) to microsomal proteins was ca. six times greater than that of [14C]DMMBI. ABT, catalase and superoxide dismutase had a minimal effect on [35S]DMMBI binding, while FMO inactivation decreased binding by ca. 30%. These findings suggest that both monooxygenases contribute significantly to the hepatic metabolism of thiocarbamides. However, FMO activates thiocarbamides primarily to sulfenic acids, whereas P450 appears to produce both sulfenic acid and other reactive sulfur-derived metabolites. Thiol groups of P450 and other proteins are the molecular targets for these reactive species formed during the hepatic metabolism of anti-hyperthyroid drugs.