Coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls included in dioxin-like compounds are bio-accumulated and adversely affect wildlife and human health. Although many researchers have studied the metabolism of PCBs, there have been few reports of the in vitro metabolism of 3,3',4,4',5-pentachlorobiphenyl (PCB126), despite the fact that it has the highest toxicity among PCB congeners. Cytochrome P450 (CYP) 1A1 proteins can metabolize some dioxins and PCBs by hydroxylation, but the activities of human and rat CYP1A1 proteins are very different. The mechanism remains unclear. From our results, rat CYP1A1 metabolized PCB126 into 4-OH-3,3',4',5-tetrachlorobiphenyl and 4-OH-3,3',4',5,5'-pentachlorobiphenyl, but human CYP1A1 did not metabolize. Homology models of the two CYP proteins, and docking studies, showed that differences in the amino acid residues forming their substrate-binding cavities led to differences in the size and shape of the cavities; only the cavity of rat CYP1A1 allowed PCB126 close enough to the haem to be metabolized. Comparison of the amino acid residues of other mammalian CYP1A1 proteins suggested that rats have a unique metabolism of xenobiotics. Our results suggest that it is necessary to be careful in human extrapolation of toxicity data estimated by using the rat as an experimental animal, especially in the case of compounds metabolized by CYP1A1.