The stability of curcumin, as well as the interactions between curcumin and cytochrome P450s (P450s) and glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) in rat liver, were studied. Curcumin is relatively unstable in phosphate buffer at pH 7.4. The stability of curcumin was strongly improved by lowering the pH or by adding glutathione (GSH), N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC), ascorbic acid, rat liver microsomes, or rat liver cytosol. Curcumin was found to be a potent inhibitor of rat liver P450 1A1/1A2 measured as ethoxyresorufin deethylation (EROD) activity in beta-naphthoflavone (beta NF)-induced microsomes, a less potent inhibitor of P450 2B1/2B2, measured as pentoxyresorufin depentylation (PROD) activity in phenobarbital (PB)-induced microsomes and a weak inhibitor of P450 2E1, measured as p-nitrophenol (PNP) hydroxylation activity in pyrazole-induced microsomes. Ki values were 0.14 and 76.02 microM for the EROD- and PROD-activities, respectively, and 30 microM of curcumin inhibited only 9% of PNP-hydroxylation activity. In ethoxyresorufin deethylation (EROD) and pentoxyresorufin depentylation (PROD) experiments, curcumin showed a competitive type of inhibition. Curcumin was also a potent inhibitor of glutathione S-transferase (GST) activity in cytosol from liver of rats treated with phenobarbital (PB), beta-naphthoflavone (beta NF) and pyrazole (Pyr), when measured towards 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene (CDNB) as substrate. In liver cytosol from rats treated with phenobarbital (PB), curcumin inhibited GST activity in a mixed-type manner with a Ki of 5.75 microM and Ki of 12.5 microM. In liver cytosol from rats treated with pyrazole (Pyr) or beta-naphthoflavone (beta NF), curcumin demonstrated a competitive type of inhibition with Ki values of 1.79 microM and 2.29 microM, respectively. It is concluded that these strong inhibitory properties of curcumin towards P450s and GSTs, in addition to its well-known antioxidant activity, may help explain the previously observed anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, and cytoprotective effects of this important natural compound and food constituent.