The vascular biotransformation of organic nitrates appears to be a prerequisite for their action as vasodilators. In the current study, we assessed the involvement of cytochrome P-450 in the denitration of glyceryl trinitrate and the enantiomers of isoidide dinitrate. Denitration of organic nitrates by the microsomal fraction of rat liver was NADPH dependent and followed apparent first-order kinetics. Under aerobic conditions, the t1/2 of D-isoidide dinitrate was significantly shorter than that of L-isoidide dinitrate (11.9 vs. 14.1 min, p less than or equal to 0.05), which is consistent with the greater potency of the D-enantiomer for vasodilation. Under anaerobic conditions, the denitration of glyceryl trinitrate was very rapid (t1/2 approximately 30 s). Organic nitrate biotransformation was inhibited by carbon monoxide, SKF 525A, and dioxygen. This suggests that the biotransformation of organic nitrates can occur through the direct interaction with the heme moiety of cytochrome P-450. The biotransformation of glyceryl trinitrate was catalyzed preferentially by those isoenzymes induced by phenobarbital. The biotransformation of glyceryl trinitrate was regioselective for 1,3-glyceryl dinitrate formation except in phenobarbital-induced microsomes under aerobic conditions, in which preferential formation of 1,2-glyceryl dinitrate occurred. These data suggest that cytochrome P-450 is involved in the biotransformation of organic nitrates and raises the possibility that vascular cytochrome P-450 may play a role in the mechanism-based biotransformation of organic nitrates, the result of which is vascular smooth muscle relaxation.