Reversible sulphation, catalysed by sulphotransferases and sulphatases, of biologically active compounds such as androgens and oestrogens is a sensitive mechanism for regulating their bioavailability, and we have previously hypothesised that this process plays a significant role in the regulation of human fetal lung development. Sulphation is also a major detoxification reaction, contributing significantly to the body's chemical defence mechanism. We have used qualitative and semiquantitative immunological studies to determine the temporal expression and localisation of phenol and hydroxysteroid sulphotransferases during human lung development. Our results show that in the early fetal lung, phenol sulphotransferase expression is at its highest, and is most widely distributed throughout the developing respiratory epithelium. With later development, expression levels decrease and become predominantly restricted to the more proximal airways. In contrast, hydroxysteroid sulphotransferase is present only at very low levels in the early-gestation lung but expression increases rapidly through gestation to reach an apparent peak by 1 year postnatal age. The proximal-to-distal gradients of phenol and hydroxysteroid sulphotransferase expression were similar in mature respiratory epithelium, with immunoreactivity in ciliated cells, non-ciliated secretory cells and basal cells, but with no apparent expression in mucus-secreting cells. These studies provide supporting evidence for the hypothesis that hydroxysteroid sulphotransferase, an androgen-inactivating enzyme, contributes to the role of androgens in retarding the maturation of human lung in utero.