Human monomorphic and polymorphic arylamine acetyltransferases (EC 220.127.116.11) were expressed in monkey kidney COS-1 cells and used to study the N- and O-acetylation of a number of carcinogenic amines and their N-hydroxy metabolites. The monomorphic enzyme N-acetylated the aromatic amines, 2-aminofluorene and 4-aminobiphenyl, and also O-acetylated their N-hydroxy derivatives. None of the food-derived heterocyclic amines (Glu-P-1, PhIP, IQ, MeIQx) were substrates and their N-hydroxy metabolites were poorly O-acetylated by this isozyme. By contrast, the polymorphic acetyltransferase catalyzed the N-acetylation of both aromatic amines, and to a lesser extent, Glu-P-1 and PhIP. However, all six N-hydroxy amine substrates were readily O-acetylated to form DNA-bound adducts by the polymorphic isozyme. These data suggest that, for the heterocyclic amine carcinogens, rapid acetylator individuals will be predisposed to their genotoxicity.