The oxidation of O6-benzylguanine, an inactivator of O6-alkylguanine-DNA alkyltransferase, was examined using human liver cytosol, microsomes, and several P450 isoforms. Incubation of O6-benzylguanine with human liver cytosol resulted in the formation of O6-benzyl-8-oxoguanine, which was inhibited by menadione, a potent inhibitor of aldehyde oxidase. Inhibition by allopurinol, a xanthine oxidase inhibitor, was less dramatic. Oxidation of O6-benzylguanine also occurred with pooled human liver microsomes and was inhibited by both furafylline and troleandomycin, selective inhibitors of CYP1A2 and CYP3A4, respectively. Human P450s CYP1A2, CYP2B6, CYP2C8, CYP2C9, CYP2E1, and CYP3A4 expressed in Hep G2 hepatoma cells using vaccinia virus vectors were incubated with 10 or 200 microM O6-benzylguanine. At 10 microM, O6-benzylguanine was oxidized primarily by CYP1A2 and to a lesser extent by CYP3A4. However, an appreciable increase in CYP3A4 contribution was noted at 200 microM. CYP1A2 exhibited a more than 200-fold higher relative catalytic activity (Vmax/Km) compared with CYP3A4. Therefore, at therapeutically relevant concentrations of O6-benzylguanine, CYP1A2 could be primarily involved in its oxidation since it shows a much lower Km value (1.3 microM) than CYP3A4 (52.2 microM) and cytosol (81.5 microM). However, one would expect interindividual variation in the extent of oxidation of O6-benzylguanine depending on the levels of aldehyde oxidase, CYP1A2, and CYP3A4.