Exposure of MCF-7 breast cancer cells to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) causes an elevated cytochrome P450 content and a marked increase in the microsomal hydroxylation of 17 beta-estradiol (E2) at the C-2, C-4, C-15 alpha, and C-6 alpha positions. In this study we investigated the involvement of cytochromes P450 of the 1A gene subfamily in this metabolism of E2. Hydroxylation at each of these four positions of E2 was inhibited by P450 1A-subfamily inhibitors, alpha-naphthoflavone, benzo[a]pyrene, and 7-ethoxyresorufin. Northern blots showed that treatment of MCF-7 cells with TCDD resulted in production of the 2.6-kb CYP1A1 mRNA, but not the 3.0-kb CYP1A2 mRNA. Immunoblot analyses with anti-P450 1A antibodies confirmed the production of P450 1A1 protein in TCDD-treated MCF-7 cells. Anti-rat P450 1A IgG inhibited the hydroxylation of E2 at C-2, C-15 alpha, and C-6 alpha, but not hydroxylation at C-4. E2 hydroxylation by human cytochromes P450 1A1 and P450 1A2 was assessed in experiments with microsomes from Saccharomyces cerevisiae after transformation with cDNAs encoding the two cytochromes. The major hydroxylase activities of expressed human P450 1A1 were at the C-2, C-15 alpha, and C-6 alpha positions of E2; expressed human P450 1A2 catalyzed hydroxylation predominately at C-2. While both expressed P450s 1A1 and 1A2 had minor hydroxylase activities at the C-4 position, neither catalyzed a low-Km hydroxylation at C-4 similar to that observed with microsomes from TCDD-treated MCF-7 cells. These results provide strong evidence that P450 1A1 catalyzes the hydroxylations of E2 at the C-2, C-15 alpha, and C-6 alpha in incubations with microsomes from TCDD-treated MCF-7 cells, but suggest TCDD may also induce a cytochrome P450 E2 4-hydroxylase that is distinct from P450 1A1 or P450 1A2.