Multiple hepatic P450 enzymes play an important role in the oxidative biotransformation of a vast number of structurally diverse drugs. As such, these enzymes are a major determinant of the pharmacokinetic behaviour of most therapeutic agents. There are several factors that influence P450 activity, either directly or at the level of enzyme regulation. Drug elimination is decreased and the incidence of drug interactions is increased when there is competition between 2 or more drugs for oxidation by the same P450 enzyme. The available knowledge concerning the relationship between the presence of certain functional groups within the drug structure and inhibition of P450 activity is increasing. In many instances, it is possible to associate inhibition with certain drug classes, e.g. antimycotic imidazoles and macrolide antibiotics. Disease states, especially those with hepatic involvement, and the genetic makeup of the individual are conditions in which some P450s may be downregulated (that is, the enzyme concentrations in liver are decreased), with associated slower rates of drug elimination. In these individuals, dosages of drugs that are substrates for downregulated P450s should be decreased. Exposure to environmental pollutants as well as a large number of lipophilic drugs can result in induction (upregulation) of P450 enzyme activity. This raises the issue of previous approaches to the study of P450 induction in vivo. The use of human hepatocyte preparations in culture is a promising new direction that could assist the determination of modifications to drug therapy necessitated by exposure to inducing agents. Until such information is obtained, however, the use of drugs known to increase the microsomal expression of particular P450s, and increase associated drug oxidation capacity in humans, should be used with caution.