Cyclosporine is converted to its major metabolites (M-17, M-1, and M-21) in human liver by enzymes belonging to the P450IIIA subfamily. These enzymes are also present in rat and human enterocytes; however, the possibility that CsA is metabolized in enterocytes has not been previously investigated. We therefore directly compared metabolism of 3H-CsA in microsomes prepared from liver and jejunal enterocytes. M-17, M-1, and M-21 were the major CsA metabolites produced by enterocyte microsomes. This metabolism appeared to be catalyzed by P450IIIA, because pretreatment of rats with the P450IIIA inducer dexamethasone significantly increased the rate of CsA metabolism in enterocyte microsomes and preincubation of enterocyte microsomes with anti-P450IIIA IgG inhibited the production of CsA metabolites by greater than 95%. To determine if enterocyte P450IIIA metabolizes CsA in vivo, rats were pretreated with the P450IIIA inducer dexamethasone, the P450IIIA inhibitor erythromycin, or vehicle alone. At laparotomy, 2 mg/kg of 3H-CsA was injected into a sealed loop of jejunum, and after collection of the mesenteric venous blood draining this segment for 45 min, the production of M-17 and M-1 was measured. In the control group, a mean of 3.9% of the recovered radioactivity was found as M-1 and M-17. In the rats pretreated with dexamethasone, a mean of 8.4% of the radioactivity was found as M-1 and M-17 (P less than 0.05 relative to control) and this decreased to 2.3% in the group pretreated with erythromycin (P = 0.08 relative to control). We conclude that P450IIIA in jejunal enterocytes readily metabolizes CsA. Furthermore, the metabolism of CsA by enterocytes in vivo is substantial and likely contributes to "first pass metabolism" of orally administered CsA. Our observations provide novel hypotheses to explain some important drug interactions and interpatient differences in CsA dosing requirements.