Cytochrome P-450IA1 (Cyto-P450IA1) is the isozyme most closely associated with aryl hydrocarbon hydroxylase (AHH). At least two distinct high-affinity binding proteins may regulate its expression, the 4S protein that primarily binds polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and the 8S Ah receptor that binds 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and like congeners. The present study was conducted to investigate ligand binding characteristics of the 4S and 8S binding proteins before and after separation from liver cytosol in the presence and absence of sodium molybdate. Liver cytosol and 4S and 8S receptor-enriched fractions from livers of male Sprague-Dawley rats (AHH-responsive), and from C57BL/6N (AHH-responsive) and DBA/2N and AKR/N mice (AHH-nonresponsive) served as sources of these proteins. Competitive binding studies were performed using 10 nM [3H]benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) or [3H]-TCDD in the presence and absence of a 200-fold excess of BaP, 3-methylcholanthrene (3-MC), and tetrachlorodibenzofuran (TCDBF). Specific PAH-binding activity was assayed by using either sucrose density gradient analysis or a hydroxylapatite assay. Our results indicate that before and after the separation of liver cytosol into 4S and 8S fractions, ligand binding characteristics were relatively unaltered for the 4S protein in comparison to that for the Ah receptor, particularly in the presence of molybdate. The 4S protein had high affinity for BaP and 3-MC but very low affinity for TCDBF; the 8S protein had high affinity for TCDBF, lesser affinity for 3-MC, and low affinity for BaP. In the presence of sodium molybdate, the Ah receptor fractions were significantly stabilized, whereas the 4S protein was relatively unaffected. After the separation of Ah receptor fraction from liver cytosol in the presence of molybdate, 3-MC consistently bound to a greater extent. These results affirm the existence of two distinct PAH-binding proteins.