The olfactory epithelium is exposed to a variety of xenobiotic chemicals, including odorants and airborne toxic compounds. Recently, two novel, highly abundant, olfactory-specific biotransformation enzymes have been identified: cytochrome P-450olf1 and olfactory UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT(olf)). The latter is a phase II biotransformation enzyme which catalyses the glucuronidation of alcohols, thiols, amines and carboxylic acids. Such covalent modification, which markedly affects lipid solubility and agonist potency, may be particularly important in the rapid termination of odorant signals. We report here the identification and characterization of a second olfactory phase II biotransformation enzyme, a glutathione S-transferase (GST). The olfactory epithelial cytosol shows the highest GST activity among the extrahepatic tissues examined. Significantly, olfactory epithelium had an activity 4-7 times higher than in other airway tissues, suggesting a role for this enzyme in chemoreception. The olfactory GST has been affinity-purified to homogeneity, and shown by h.p.l.c. and N-terminal amino acid sequencing to constitute mainly the Yb1 and Yb2 subunits, different from most other tissues that have mixtures of more enzyme classes. The identity of the olfactory enzymes was confirmed by PCR cloning and restriction enzyme analysis. Most importantly, the olfactory GSTs were found to catalyse glutathione conjugation of several odorant classes, including many unsaturated aldehydes and ketones, as well as epoxides. Together with UGT(olf), olfactory GST provides the necessary broad coverage of covalent modification capacity, which may be crucial for the acuity of the olfactory process.