The oxidative metabolism of FK506 by liver microsomes and purified cytochrome P450 (P450) enzymes from rats, dogs and humans was studied. The major metabolite formed by liver microsomes from all species was 13-demethylated FK506, named M-I. In adult rats, liver microsomal metabolic activity toward FK506 was higher in males than in females and was stimulated by treatment with P450 3A inducers such as dexamethasone and phenobarbital. In a reconstituted monooxygenase system containing various forms of purified P450 3A enzymes, rat P450 3A2, dog P450 DPB-1 (a form of the P450 3A family) and human P450 3A4 catalyzed FK506 oxidation efficiently in the presence of cytochrome b5, a mixture of phospholipids (dilauroylphosphatidylcholine, dioleoylphosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine), and sodium cholate. Rat P450 2C6 and 2D1 and human P450 2CMP also metabolized FK506, with significant lower activity than the P450 3A enzymes, and other rat P450 1A, 2A, 2B, 2C and 2E families including C11 did not show catalytic activities for FK506. Anti-P450 3A2 and anti-P450 3A4 antibodies strongly inhibited FK506 oxidation catalyzed by rat and human liver microsomes, respectively. The formation rate of M-I correlated well with testosterone 2 beta- and 6 beta-hydroxylase activities in rat liver microsomes and with immunoquantified P450 3A4 content, nifedipine oxidase activity, and testosterone 6 beta-hydroxylase activity in human liver microsomes. These in vitro findings indicate that the P450 3A enzymes in liver microsomes from various species of animals, including human, play a major role in the first step oxidation of FK506.