The effect of indole-3-carbinol (IC), an anticarcinogen present in cruciferous vegetables, to alter the metabolism of 4-androstenedione (AD) by female rat liver microsomes was investigated and compared to that of its main gastric conversion product, diindolylmethane (DIM) as well as other specific cytochrome P450 inducers. DIM was a more potent inducer of the hydroxylase which converts androsterone to its 6 beta-hydroxylated derivative 3 alpha, 6 beta-dihydroxy-5 alpha-androstan-17-one (A) than IC after either oral or intraperitoneal administration and was also a better in vitro inhibitor. Isosafrole (ISF), which like IC and DIM, induces CYP1A2 as well as gestodene, were powerful inhibitors of the in vitro reaction. Naringenin produced only a weak inhibitory effect while 3-methylcholanthrene was inactive. SKF-525A, a prototypic hydroxylase inhibitor, or 17 beta-N,N-diethylcarbamoyl-4-methyl-4-aza-5 alpha-androst-1-ene-3-one which inhibits steroid 5 alpha-reductase, also decreased the formation of A from AD by liver microsomes. The infusion of human growth hormone by osmotic minipump, which feminizes hepatic steroid metabolism, increased the ability of male rat liver microsomes to convert AD to A and to respond to induction by IC. The identity of A, the main polar derivative of AD, induced by IC, DIM and ISF, was tentatively assigned by a combination of GC-MS and results from metabolic studies with intermediates in the pathway leading to its formation. It is proposed that the protective role of indole carbinols against mammary carcinoma due to decreased formation of 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone from estrone may be further enhanced by the diminished availability of AD for aromatization to estrone.