The combined presence of CYP1A2 and 3A4, both of which oxidize aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) to the reactive aflatoxin B1-8,9-epoxide (AFBO) and to hydroxylated inactivation products aflatoxin M1 (AFM1) and aflatoxin Q1 (AFQ1), substantially complicates the kinetic analysis of AFB1 oxidation in human liver microsomes. In the present study, we examine the reaction kinetics of AFB1 oxidation in human liver microsomes (HLMs, N = 3) and in human CYP3A4 and CYP1A2 cDNA-expressed lymphoblastoid microsomes for the purpose of identifying the CYP isoform(s) responsible for AFB1 oxidation at low substrate concentrations approaching those potentially encountered in the diet. AFBO formation by cDNA-expressed human CYP1A2 followed Michaelis-Menten kinetics (Km = 41 microM, Vmax = 2.63 nmol/min/nmol P450). Furthermore, the portion of AFBO formed in HLMs which was eliminated by furafylline, a specific mechanism-based inhibitor of CYP1A2, also followed Michaelis-Menten kinetics (Km = 32-47 microM, Vmax = 0.36-0.69 nmol/min/nmol P450). The formation of AFBO (activation product) and AFQ1 (detoxification product) in cDNA-expressed human CYP3A4 microsomes was sigmoidal and consistent with the kinetics of substrate activation. Accordingly, application of a sigmoid Vmax model equivalent to the Hill equation produced excellent fits to the cDNA-expressed CYP3A4 data and also to the data from HLMs pretreated with furafylline to remove CYP1A2. The Hill model predicted that two substrate binding sites are involved in CYP3A4-mediated AFB1 catalysis and that the average affinity of AFB1 for the two sites was 140-180 microM. Vmax values for AFQ1 formation were 10-fold greater than those for AFBO, and total substrate turnover to both was 67 nmol/min/nmol CYP3A4. Using the derived kinetic parameters for CYP1A2 and 3A4 to model the in vitro rates of AFB activation at low substrate concentrations, it was predicted that CYP1A2 contributes to over 95% of AFB activation in human liver microsomes at 0.1 microM AFB. The important role of CYP1A2 in the in vitro activation of AFB at low substrate concentrations was supported by DNA binding studies. AFB1-DNA binding in control HLMs (reflecting the contribution of CYP1A2 and CYP3A4) and furafylline-pretreated microsomes (reflecting the contribution of CYP3A4 only) catalyzed the binding of 1.71 and 0.085 pmol equivalents of AFB1 to DNA, respectively, indicating that CYP1A2 was responsible for 95% of AFB1-DNA adduct formation at 0.133 microM AFB. These results demonstrate that CYP1A2 dominates the activation of AFB in human liver microsomes in vitro at submicromolar concentrations and support the hypothesis that CYP1A2 is the predominant enzyme responsible for AFBO activation in human liver in vivo at the relatively low dietary concentrations encountered in the human diet, even in high AFB exposure regions of the world. However, because the actual concentrations of AFB in liver in vivo following dietary exposures are uncertain, additional studies in exposed human populations are needed. Quantitative data on the relative rates of AFM1 and AFQ1 excretion (potential biomarkers for CYP1A2 and 3A4 activity, respectively) in humans would be useful to validate the actual contributions of these two enzymes to AFB1 oxidation in vivo.