The placenta possesses the ability to metabolize a number of xenobiotics and endogenous compounds by processes similar to those seen in the liver. Animal and in vivo studies have observed that the presence of diabetes alters the expression of hepatic metabolizing enzymes (cytochrome P450 and glutathione S-transferase); however, it is unknown whether similar alterations occur in the human placenta. To evaluate whether diabetes has any effect of placental xenobiotic metabolizing activity, the catalytic activities of 7-ethoxyresorufin O-deethylation (EROD, CYP1A1), chlorzoxazone 6-hydroxylation (CYP2E1), dextromethorphan N-demethylation (CYP3A4), dextromethorphan O-demethylation (CYP2D6), and 1-chloro-2, 4-dinitrobenzene (CDNB) conjugation with glutathione (glutathione S-transferase, GST) from placentas of diet (class A1) and insulin-dependent (class A2) gestational diabetics and overt diabetics were compared with matched controls. EROD activity (CYP1A1) ranged from 0.29 to 2.67 pmol/min/mg protein. However, no differences were observed among overt or gestational diabetics and their respective matched controls. CDNB conjugation (GST) ranged from 0.275 to 1.65 units/min/mg protein. In contrast to that observed with CYP1A1, a small but statistically significant reduction in GST activity was noted in overt diabetics as compared with their matched controls and gestational diabetics. CYP2E1, 2D6, and 3A4 enzymatic activities were not detected in human placental tissue. GST protein was detectable in all tissues studied, but no CYP protein could be detected in any of the tissues. Thus, it seems that pregnant women with overt diabetes have reduced GST activity in the placenta, which could potentially result in the exposure of the fetus to harmful electrophiles. However, the full clinical significance of this finding remains to be elucidated.