Human and rat liver microsomal fractions exhibit non-linear Michaelis-Menten kinetics in the O-deethylation of both phenacetin and 7-ethoxycoumarin. Comparison of various models indicated that the data were best described by a biphasic plot, which could be interpreted in terms of two populations of cytochrome P-450. The K(m)'s of the high affinity phase of 7-ethoxycoumarin O-deethylase activity were 1.8 +/- 0.4 microM and 2.3 +/- 0.4 microM for human and rat respectively while the K(m)'s of the low affinity phase were 205 +/- 20 microM and 237 +/- 59 microM in the two species respectively. V(max) of the high affinity phase of human 7-ethoxycoumarin O-deethylase activity was 96.9 +/- 19.0 pmol mg(-1) min(-1) and the activity of the corresponding phase in the rat was 2.7 times greater. The activities of the low affinity phase were 10-15 times greater than the respective activity of the high affinity phase. Rat and human also had similar values for the K(m)'s of the two phases of phenacetin O-deethylase activity, around 5 microM for the high affinity phase and 300 microM for the low affinity phase. Total activity was very similar in the two species, 1500-1750 pmol mg(-1) min(-1) and the difference between the two phases of activity was only 2.5-fold in man and 10-fold in rat. Studies on the effects of the in vitro modifiers of monooxygenase activity alpha-naphthoflavone and metyrapone further supported the hypothesis that the two phases of O-deethylase activity represent two different forms or populations of cytochrome P-450.