The human respiratory epithelium is in direct contact with chemical carcinogens and toxins in inhaled air. Therefore, the activities of xenobiotic-metabolising enzymes in this epithelium could modulate respiratory toxicity and carcinogenesis. We determined the expression of several xenobiotic-metabolising enzymes, including phase I and phase II enzymes, in human bronchial mucosa and peripheral lung tissues. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis of phase I enzymes showed CYP1A1 and CYP2C (CYP2C8 and CYP2C18) mRNA expression in all of the 14 bronchial mucosa specimens. CYP2A6 and CYP2B6 mRNAs were found in 85% of the samples, whereas 50 and 90% of the tissues displayed CYP2E1 and CYP3A5 expression, respectively. However, CYP1A2, CYP2D6 and CYP3A4 mRNAs were not detected in all samples analysed. Normal human bronchial epithelial cells (NHBE cells) cultured in serum-free conditions showed reduced P450 expression in comparison with the bronchial mucosal samples. Similar to the bronchial mucosa, the peripheral lung tissues expressed CYP1A1, CYP2A6, CYP2B6, CYP2C (CYP2C8 and CYP2C18), CYP2E1 and CYP3A5 mRNAs, but did not show detectable levels of CYP2D6. Additional P450s, such as CYP1A2 and CYP3A4, were detected. The expression of CYP1A1, CYP1A2, CYP2B6, CYP2E1 and CYP3A4/5 in peripheral lung tissues was confirmed at the protein level, whereas CYP2A6 protein was undetectable. The use of specific primers for the detection of the phase II isoenzymes belonging to the glutathione S-transferase mu (GST mu) and N-acetyl transferase (NAT) families showed that GSTM1 was expressed in 40% of the bronchial mucosa and 25% of the peripheral lung tissues, whereas GSTM3 and NAT1 mRNAs were found in all bronchial and lung samples. Finally, NAT2 expression was detected in all peripheral lung tissues, but was not detected in the bronchus. In conclusion, these results describing the diversity of the xenobiotic-metabolising enzymes expressed in the bronchus and lung tissues indicate that the human respiratory system could significantly and specifically contribute to the activation and metabolism of several environmental procarcinogens.