The cytochrome P-450-dependent aryl hydrocarbon hydroxylase (AHH) metabolizes a wide variety of endogenous and exogenous compounds to nontoxic metabolites and/or toxic products. We have utilized a series of 18 flavone modulators of AHH to distinguish and probe for different cytochrome P-450 isozymes in liver microsomes from control and 3-methylcholanthrene (MC)-injected rats. some flavones (maackiain acetate, flavanone, mollisacacidin, embinin, sciadopitysin) activated, while most of the tested compounds inhibited the MC-induced type of AHH. Although all flavones either inhibited or had little effect on the constitutive AHH in microsomes from control rats, the degree of inhibition varied greatly: some flavones (chrysin, chrysoeriol, baicalein, maackiain acetate, isoliquiritigenin, sciadopitysin) inhibited over 75% of the AHH. The various flavones we screened may prove useful in defining the cytochrome P-450 content of tissues and for probing the active sites of individual isozymes. The modulatory effects of the naturally occurring flavones assume additional importance in that they may be factors in animal and human responsiveness to cytochrome P-450 substrates.