The oral administration of indole-3-carbinol (IC), present in cabbage and other members of the Cruciferae family, to female rats almost doubled their ability to convert estradiol to catechol estrogens in the liver. This was determined by the release of 3H from C-2 of the estrogen and also by isolation of the 14C-labeled catechol derivative after incubation with hepatic microsomal fractions. The yield of 4-hydroxyestradiol was also elevated and these effects were similar to those produced by 3-methylcholanthrene (MC), a well-characterized cytochrome P450 inducer. Further evidence for the involvement of a mixed-function oxidase was provided by a 70% to 80% decrease in the yield of 3H2O and water-soluble radioactivity by SKF-525A (0.1 mM) when added to the microsomal fractions isolated from the livers of control or IC-treated rats. In addition, NADPH could not be replaced by NADH in these experiments. Pretreatment with ethionine prevented the increase in estradiol metabolism brought about by oral administration of IC. Both IC and MC inhibited catechol estrogen formation when added directly to the liver microsomal system, confirming earlier findings that in vivo inducers can act as in vitro inhibitors. However, IC was less inhibitory than MC, supporting the theory that IC is converted to a more active product in the stomach. Thus, IC may be conferring protection against estrogen-dependent neoplasia by increasing the hepatic oxidation of estradiol, thereby lowering the amount of available active estrogen.