The effects of chronic ethanol feeding of rats on the ability of liver fractions to modulate the bacterial mutagenicity of three dinitropyrene isomers (1,3-, 1,6- and 1,8-DNP), which require bacterial enzymes but not an exogenous enzyme source for activation, were studied. The mutagenicity of the DNP isomers toward S. typhimurium TA98 and TA100 was attenuated in the presence of post-mitochondrial supernatants (S9) from both ethanol-fed and pair-fed rats albeit, that from the ethanol-fed group was more efficient in lowering the mutagenicity. The cytosolic fraction from ethanol-fed rats enhanced the mutagenicity of all of the DNP isomers in TA100. The most notable enhancement was with 1,3-DNP in which a more than 4-fold enhancement was obtained. Cytosol from pair-fed rats enhanced only the mutagenicity of 1,3-DNP, this by 2.9-fold. Cytosolic NADPH-nitroreductase activity from ethanol-treated rats toward 1,6-, 1,8- and 1,3-DNP was increased 2.8-, 1.7- and 1.3-fold, respectively over pair-fed controls. Cytosolic NADH-nitroreductase from ethanol-fed rats was increased with 1,3-DNP (1.7-fold) and 1,8-DNP (1.4-fold) as substrates, but not with 1,6-DNP. Microsomes decreased the mutagenicity of DNP similarly to S9, i.e., fractions from ethanol-fed rats were more efficient than those of pair-fed rats in deactivating all the DNP isomers. Per mg of protein, detoxification of DNP by S9 was more efficient than with microsomes, thus both cytosolic and microsomal enzymes are required for maximal detoxification. In summary, ethanol feeding modulates both the augmented cytosolic activation of DNP to mutagens and the deactivation of the direct-acting mutagenicity of DNP by microsomes. In combination, as is the case with S9, the microsomal detoxifying activity outcompetes the cytosolic activation.