Fed and fasted, male, Wistar albino rats exposed to light ether anaesthesia and killed immediately or after 30 or 120 min recovery were compared with non-anaesthetized rats for changes in liver and kidney cytochrome P450 (CYP) activities. In fed rats, liver total CYP (nmol/mg protein) decreased by 30% immediately after ether, but was restored to normal levels after 30 min recovery; in fasted rats, liver total CYP increased by 20% by fasting alone, then decreased by 65% immediately after ether, and recovered to only 70% of control at 2 hr after ether. Rat liver cytochrome P4501A (CYP1A; 7-ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase or EROD activity) and cytochrome P4502B (CYP2B; 7-pentoxyresorufin O-dealkylase or PROD activity) were decreased after ether anaesthesia, similar to those for total CYP. In contrast, rat liver cytochrome P4502E1 (CYP2E1), determined by p-nitrophenol hydroxylation, increased by 40% by ether anaesthesia alone, 70% by fasting alone and 140% by ether plus fasting; these increases were confirmed by the CYP2E1-mediated activation of nitrosopyrrolidine and by immunoblot analysis using antibody to CYP2E1. In rat kidney, losses of total CYP, CYP1A and CYP2B, and increases of CYP2E1, induced by ether anaesthesia, were much more marked in fasted (90% loss in total CYP, 30% increase in CYP2E1) than in fed rats (slight loss in total cytochrome P450, 30% increase in CYP2E1). As maximum losses of total CYP in liver of fasted rats exposed to ether occurred at the time of maximum increase of CYP2E1 and maximum rate of generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), it is suggested that the increase of CYP2E1, resulting from its stabilization by fasting and ether, leads to generation of ROS, increase in lipid peroxidation and consequent loss of total CYP, associated with the hepatic and renal necrosis seen in ether intoxication and surgical trauma.