The metabolic activation of procarcinogens and promutagens by human liver microsomal cytochrome P-450 has been investigated by means of a newly developed method measuring the induction of umu gene in Salmonella typhimurium TA1535/pSK1002 [T. Shimada and S. Nakamura, Biochem. Pharmac. 36, 1979 (1987)]. The chemicals examined were aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), eight carcinogenic heterocyclic aromatic amines isolated from protein and amino acid pyrolysates, and 2-aminoanthracene. Liver microsomes from six patients catalyzed the metabolic activation of these chemicals; 2-amino-3,5-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoline (MeIQ) and AFB1 were most actively bioactivated, followed by 2-amino-3-methylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoline (IQ), 2-aminoanthracene (2-AA) and 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline. At least two forms of human cytochrome P-450 may be involved in the activation of these procarcinogens. This suggestion was supported by the following lines of evidence: (a) addition of non-ionic detergent Emulgen 913 to the incubation mixture caused a more profound inhibition of microsome-catalyzed activation of AFB1 than of MeIQ, IQ and 2AA, (b) 7,8-benzoflavone stimulated the activation of AFB1 by about 2.5-fold, whereas it inhibited significantly the reactions with MeIQ, IQ and 2AA, and (c) polyclonal antibodies against a 3-methylcholanthrene-inducible form of rat cytochrome P-450 (P-450d) caused a marked inhibition of the metabolic activation of MeIQ, IQ and 2-AA by human liver microsomes though they did not show any effects on the microsomal activation of AFB1. Data are also presented showing that none of the reactions catalyzed by human liver microsomes were inhibited by antibodies to a phenobarbital-inducible form of rat cytochrome P-450 (P-450b). These results suggest that the human cytochrome P-450 isozyme that is immunochemically similar and, thus, homologous to rat P-450d plays a major role in the metabolic activation of several procarcinogens examined, and that the activation of AFB1 is catalyzed by another and, possibly, not phenobarbital-inducible form(s) of human cytochrome P-450.