Vindesine biotransformation was investigated using a bank of human liver microsomes. The drug was converted into one major metabolite (M) upon incubation with the microsomes. Large interindividual variations were observed: vindesine biotransformation rates ranged from 1.2 to 12.9 pmol/min/mg protein. Vindesine metabolic processes followed Michaelis-Menten kinetics: Km = 24.7 +/- 9.4 microM, Vmax = 1.5 +/- 0.8 nmol/min/mg protein. The involvement of human cytochrome P450 3A isozymes in vindesine metabolism was demonstrated by: (1) competitive inhibition of vindesine biotransformation by compounds known to be specifically metabolized by human cytochrome P450 3A. Apparent Ki values were 3.6, 17.9 and 19.8 microM for quinidine, troleandomycin and erythromycin, respectively; (2) immunoinhibition of vindesine metabolism by polyclonal anti-P450 3A antibody; (3) significant correlation between immunoquantified P450 3A and vindesine biotransformation (r = 0.800, P < 0.001); and (4) significant correlation between erythromycin N-demethylase activity, which was supported by P450 3A in humans, and vindesine biotransformation (r = 0.853, P < 0.001). Other vinca alkaloids also exerted an inhibitory effect on vindesine biotransformation with apparent Ki values of 3.8, 10.6 and 19.2 microM for vinblastine, vincristine and navelbine, respectively, suggesting a possible involvement of the same cytochrome subfamily in their hepatic metabolism. Moreover, a number of anticancer drugs currently associated with the vinca alkaloids, such as teniposide, etoposide, doxorubicin, lomustine, folinic acid and mitoxantrone, significantly inhibited vindesine biotransformation.