Recent evidence supports a role for the CYP2D6 enzyme in the metabolism of tryptamine. Because of the partial overlapping between substrate and inhibitor specificities that characterize some cytochrome P450 enzymes, these finding raise the possibility that other cytochrome P450 enzymes may be modulated by endogenous compounds. In the present study, the occurrence of modulatory effect of 17 neurotransmitters, precursors and metabolites on the cytochrome P450 1A2 (CYP1A2) enzyme activity was studied in human liver microsomes. Two indoleamines, serotonin and tryptamine, showed a competitive inhibitory effect on the high-affinity component of the phenacetin O-de-ethylase activity. Both substances induced an inhibition of 100% of the activity, with Ki values of 35 and 45 microns for serotonin and tryptamine, respectively. The inhibitors did not affect the microsomal NADPH-reductase activity. Other substances, which were either poor or partial inhibitors, were dopamine, L-tyrosine, tryptophol, 5-hydroxytryptophol, adrenaline, indole-3-acetaldehyde, 5-hydroxytryptophan, noradrenaline, vanillylmandelic acid, indole-3-acetic acid, dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, and homovanillic acid. L-tryptophan, dihydroxyphenylalanine and 5-hyroxyindole acetic acid induced very low or no inhibitory effect. Tryptamine and serotonin metabolism in human liver microsomes was studied after inhibition of monoamine oxidase activity with the unspecific MAO inhibitor pargyline. Both serotonin and tryptamine were metabolized in human liver microsomes. However, the metabolism of both indoleamines was not significantly inhibited with the CYP1A2-specific inhibitor furafylline, thus indicating that the inhibition of CYP1A2 was not related to metabolic activity of the CYP1A2 enzyme on serotonin or tryptamine. The CYP1A2 enzyme is expressed in brain and is involved in the metabolism of psychoactive drugs. Therefore, the fact that endogenous compounds could modulate the CYP1A2 activity suggests that local activity of brain CYP1A2 might be susceptible to local regulatory mechanisms. This may have important clinical implications, one of them being that CYP1A2 activity in brain tissue might correlate poorly with that of liver, as observed in vivo. In addition, the influence of indoleamines on CYP1A2 activity might be partly responsible for a number of associations of CYP1A2 activity with nutritional and environmental factors.