The catechol estrogen metabolites of 17beta-estradiol (E2), 2-hydroxyestradiol (OHE2) and 4-OHE2, differ in hormonal properties and carcinogenic potential. In Syrian hamster kidney, 4-OHE2 induces clear-cell carcinoma whereas 2-OHE2 does not, and an E2 4-hydroxylase appears to be involved in E2-induced carcinogenesis in these animals. Specific E2 4-hydroxylase activity has been observed in extrahepatic tissues from several species. In humans, cytochrome P450 1B1 (CYP1B1) appears to be an extrahepatic E2 4-hydroxylase under the regulatory control of the aromatic hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). As an initial approach to investigating CYP1B1 expression and E2 4-hydroxylase activity in human kidney, we used the ACHN cell line, derived from a human renal adenocarcinoma. In untreated ACHN cells, a very low level of CYP1B1 mRNA expression was observed and CYP1B1 protein could not be detected; however, in ACHN cells exposed to the high-affinity AhR ligand, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), CYP1B1 mRNA levels were elevated 28-fold, and the CYP1B1 protein was detected by immunoblot analysis. Exposure of ACHN cells to TCDD resulted in minimal induction of the CYP1A1 mRNA, and the CYP1A1 protein was not detectable prior to or after exposure to TCDD. E2 hydroxylase activity could not be detected with microsomes from untreated ACHN cells, although activities at C-4 and, to a lesser extent, at C-2 of E2 were observed with microsomes from TCDD-treated ACHN cells. In experiments with intact ACHN cells, elevated rates of formation of 4-methoxyestradiol (MeOE2) and 2-MeOE2 were observed in response to treatment with TCDD. The EC50 for induction of the CYP1B1 mRNA was 1.5 nM TCDD; EC50s for the stimulation of 2- and 4-MeOE2 formation were 0.68 and 1.1 nM TCDD. These results indicate that the ACHN cell line may be a useful in vitro model system to study the regulation of CYP1B1 expression and the cytotoxic effects associated with E2 4-hydroxylation.