Cimetidine, a histamine H2-receptor antagonist widely used to treat peptic ulceration, is known to cause gynecomastia and sexual dysfunction in some men. Since cimetidine inhibits the cytochrome P-450-dependent biotransformation of numerous drugs, we investigated the possibility that it might also inhibit the cytochrome P-450--dependent metabolism of estradiol. Radiometric analysis of urine and serum samples from nine normal male volunteers showed that the extent of 2-hydroxylation of estradiol was significantly reduced from a mean (+/- SEM) of 31.7 +/- 2.3 percent to 19.7 +/- 2.3 percent (P less than 0.0001) after two weeks of oral treatment with cimetidine (800 mg twice a day); the 16 alpha-hydroxylation of estradiol was unaffected. At the same time, the urinary excretion of 2-hydroxyestrone decreased by approximately 25 percent (P less than 0.0002), and the serum concentration of estradiol increased by approximately 20 percent (P less than 0.04). The mean percentage of estradiol 2-hydroxylation was also rapidly reduced, from 36.8 +/- 4.4 percent to 24.5 +/- 3.4 percent in six men after one week of oral cimetidine at a lower dosage (400 mg twice a day; P less than 0.0006). In a separate study of seven men, ranitidine, a second-generation H2-receptor antagonist, was found to have no effect on the 2-hydroxylation of estradiol. This study demonstrates that the administration of cimetidine to men decreases the 2-hydroxylation of estradiol and results in an increase in the serum estradiol concentration. This mechanism may help to account for the signs and symptoms of estrogen excess reported with the long-term use of cimetidine.