Human liver cytochromes P-450 (P450) 2C9 and 2C10 expressed in yeast reproduce all the metabolic features of the oxidation of tienilic acid (2-aryloxo-thiophene) and its isomer (3-aroylthiophene) by human liver microsomes. Microsomes of yeast expressing either P450 2C9 or P450 2C10 catalyze (a) the 5-hydroxylation of tienilic acid by NADPH and O2 (Km = 6 microM, Vmax = 2.5 turnover/min), (b) the activation of tienilic acid and its isomer into electrophilic metabolites which covalently bind to proteins, and (c) the formation of a mercaptoethanol adduct which results from the trapping of the tienilic acid isomer sulfoxide by this thiol. Microsomes of yeast expressing human liver P450 3A4, 1A1 and 1A2 are unable to catalyze these reactions. There is a striking similarity between the quantitative characteristics of the oxidation of tienilic acid (and its isomer) by yeast-expressed P450 2C9 (or 2C10) and by human liver microsomes: (a) analogous Km values (around 10 microM) for tienilic acid 5-hydroxylation, (b) a strong inhibition of tienilic acid oxidation by human sera containing anti-(liver kidney microsomes type 2) (anti-LKM2) antibodies, and (c) almost identical relative ratios of tienilic acid metabolic activation/5-hydroxylation and of tienilic acid activation/the activation of its isomer with both systems. Rates of oxidation of tienilic acid (and its isomer) by yeast microsomes are 6-8 fold higher than those found in human liver microsomes, which would be in agreement with the previously reported amount of P450 2C9 in human liver. These results not only suggest the important role of P450 2C9 in the oxidative metabolism of tienilic acid in human liver, but also indicate that the 5-hydroxylation reaction could be a useful marker for P450 2C9 activity and underline the interest of human liver P450s expressed in yeast as tools for studying the formation of reactive metabolites.