Our previous investigations have implicated a cytochrome P450 mechanism in the oxygen contraction of the ductus arteriosus and, by extension, in the closure of the vessel at birth. This study was undertaken in fetal and newborn sheep to characterize the ductal cytochrome and gather insight into its operation. Other tissues, vascular and extravascular, were used as a reference. Benzo[a]pyrene hydroxylation (a marker for the 3-methylcholanthrene-inducible isozyme) and aminopyrine N-demethylation (a marker for the glucocorticoid-inducible isozyme) had insignificant activity in the ductus and aorta from fetal sheep, and no increase was noted after exposing the animal in utero to beta-naphthoflavone or dexamethasone, both alone and in combination with phenobarbital. However, dexamethasone and, particularly, dexamethasone plus phenobarbital produced a variable constriction of the fetal ductus. No monooxygenase activity was found in the naturally closing ductus of the newborn. Conversely, both enzyme reactions were measurable in the fetal liver, and they became more active after treatment with the inducers or at birth. Scanning immunoelectron microscopy of cultured endothelial and muscle cells from both ductus and aorta showed specific gold labelling for the glucocorticoid-inducible cytochrome P450 only in ductal muscle. By transmission electron microscopy, this immunoreactivity was located along the sarcolemma and in the sarcoplasmic reticulum. These findings indicate the presence in the ductus arteriosus of a cytochrome P450 belonging to the 3A subfamily. However, considering the uneven action of the inducers on enzyme activity in ductal tissue and muscle tone, the role of this cytochrome in closure of the vessel at birth remains to be ascertained.