Cholesterol 7 alpha-hydroxylase (cholesterol, NADPH: oxygen oxidoreductase, 7 alpha-hydroxylating, EC 126.96.36.199) was purified from liver microsomes of cholestryramine-fed male rats by using high-performance ion-exchange chromatography. The purified enzyme showed a single band on sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (Mr = 52,000), and its dithionite-reduced CO complex exhibited an absorption maximum at 450 nm. The specific content of the enzyme was 9 nmol of cytochrome P-450/mg of protein. Upon reconstitution with NADPH-cytochrome P-450 reductase, the enzyme showed a high activity of cholesterol 7 alpha-hydroxylation with the turnover number of 50 min-1 at 37 degrees C. The reaction was inhibited neither by aminoglutethimide nor by metyrapone, but inhibited markedly by iodoacetamide and disulfiram. The reaction was also inhibited significantly by CO. The enzyme catalyzed hydroxylation of cholesterol with strict regio- and stereoselectivity and was inert toward other sterols which are intermediates in the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids, i.e. 7 alpha-hydroxy-4-cholesten-3-one (12 alpha-hydroxylation), 5 beta-cholestane-3 alpha, 7 alpha, 12 alpha-triol (25-hydroxylation), and taurodeoxycholate (7 alpha-hydroxylation). Unlike other cytochromes P-450 isolated from rat liver microsomes, the enzyme showed no activity toward testosterone and xenobiotics such as 7-ethoxycoumarin and benzo[a] pyrene. The NH2-terminal amino acid sequence of the enzyme was Met-Phe-Glu-Val(Ile)-Ser-Leu-, which was distinct from those of any other cytochromes P-450 of rat liver microsomes hitherto reported. These results indicate that the enzyme is a novel species of cytochrome P-450 so far not isolated from liver microsomes.