We used a rapid scanning stop-flow technique to study the kinetics of reduction of cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) by the flavin domain of cytochrome P450-BM3 (BMR), which was shown to form a stoichiometric complex (K(D)=0.48 microM) with CYP3A4. In the absence of substrates only about 50% of CYP3A4 was able to accept electrons from BMR. Whereas the high-spin fraction was completely reducible, the reducibility of the low-spin fraction did not exceed 42%. Among four substrates tested (testosterone, 1-pyrenebutanol, bromocriptine, or alpha-naphthoflavone (ANF)) only ANF is capable of increasing the reducibility of the low-spin fraction to 75%. Our results demonstrate that the pool of CYP3A4 is heterogeneous, and not all P450 is competent for electron transfer in the complex with reductase. The increase in the reducibility of the enzyme in the presence of ANF may represent an important element of the mechanism of action of this activator.