A unique characteristic of the CYP3A subfamily of cytochrome P450 enzymes is their ability to be activated by certain compounds. It is reported that CYP3A4-catalyzed phenanthrene metabolism is activated by 7,8-benzoflavone and that 7,8-benzoflavone serves as a substrate for CYP3A4. Kinetic analyses of these two substrates show that 7,8-benzoflavone increases the Vmax of phenanthrene metabolism without changing the Km and that phenanthrene decreases the Vmax of 7,8-benzoflavone metabolism without increasing the Km. These results suggest that both substrates (or substrate and activator) are simultaneously present in the active site. Both compounds must have access to the active oxygen, since neither phenanthrene nor 7,8-benzoflavone can competitively inhibit the other substrate. These data provide the first evidence that two different molecules can be simultaneously bound to the same P450 active site. Additionally, structure-activity relationship studies were performed with derivatives of 7,8-benzoflavone structure. The effects of 13 different compounds on the regioselectivity of phenanthrene, chrysene, and benzo[a]pyrene metabolism were determined. Of the 13 compounds studied, 6 were activators, 2 were partial activators, and 5 were inhibitors. Analyses of the data suggest that (1) naphthalene substituted with a ketone in the 2-position can activate 3A4 and (2) the presence of an activator results in a narrower effective substrate binding site. Since the CYP3A enzymes are very important in drug metabolism, the possibility of activation, and autoactivation, must be considered when in vitro-in vivo correlations are made and when possible drug interactions are considered.