Small intestinal cytochromes P450 (P450) provide the principal, initial source of biotransformation of ingested xenobiotics. The consequences of such biotransformation are detoxification by facilitating excretion, or toxification by bioactivation. P450s occur at highest concentrations in the duodenum, near the pylorus, and at decreasing concentrations distally--being lowest in the ileum. Highest concentrations occur from midvillus to villous tip, with little or none occurring in the crypts of Lieberkuehn. Microsomal P4503A, 2C8-10, and 2D6 forms have been identified in human small intestine, and P450s 2B1, possibly 2B2, 2A1, and 3A1/2 were located in endoplasmic reticulum of rodent small intestine, while P4502B4 has been purified to electrophoretic homogeneity from rabbit intestine. Some evidence indicates a differential distribution of P450 forms along the length of the small intestine and even along the villus. Rat intestinal P450s are inducible by xenobiotics--with phenobarbital (PB) inducing P4502B1, 3-methylcholanthrene (3-MC) inducing P4501A1, and dexamethasone inducing two forms of P4503A. Induction is most effectively achieved by oral administration of the agents, and is rapid--aryl hydrocarbon hydroxylase (AHH) was increased within 1 h of administration of, for example, 3-MC. AHH, 7-ethoxycoumarin O-deethylase (ECOD), and 7-ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase (EROD) have been used most frequently as substrates to characterize intestinal P450s. Dietary factors affect intestinal P450s markedly--iron restriction rapidly decreased intestinal P450 to beneath detectable values; selenium deficiency acted similarly but was less effective; Brussels sprouts increased intestinal AHH activity 9.8-fold, ECOD activity 3.2-fold, and P450 1.9-fold; fried meat and dietary fat significantly increased intestinal EROD activity; a vitamin A-deficient diet increased, and a vitamin A-rich diet decreased intestinal P450 activities; and excess cholesterol in the diet increased intestinal P450 activity. The role of intestinal P450 in toxifying or detoxifying specific xenobiotics has been clearly demonstrated to only a limited extent. However, elevated intestinal P450 levels have been indirectly linked to gastrointestinal cancer. Intestinal metabolism of 2,2,2-trifluoroethanol produces intestinal lesions with consequent systemic bacterial infection.