In this study, cytochrome P450 (CYP; EC 188.8.131.52)-dependent activities and P450 isoenzyme patterns were determined in human monocytes and macrophages, which play a major role in antigen processing including small molecular weight compounds which cause contact dermatitis or drug-allergic reactions. Using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) we determined the mRNA expression of eight CYPs (1A1, 1A2, 1B1, 2B6/7, 2E1, 3A3/4, 3A7 and 4B1) in human blood monocytes and macrophage subsets 27E10 and RM3/1. To study the influence of known P450 inducers, monocytes were incubated in vitro with ethanol, dexamethasone, cyclosporin A (CSA), benzanthracene (BA), phenobarbital (PB), lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetat (TPA) for 24 hr. Percoll density gradient isolated monocytes as well as the pro-inflammatory macrophage subtype 27E10 expressed 1B1, 2E1 and 2B6/7. On the other hand, in the anti-inflammatory macrophage subtype RM3/1, predominantly 1B1 and to some extent 2B6/7 were found. Treatment with cyclosporin A, phenobarbital, benzanthracene or ethanol resulted in induction of the expression of 3A3/4. CYP1B1 was the predominant isoenzyme in all monocytes and macrophages. In monocytes purified by adherence or induced by benzanthracene, lipopolysaccharide or 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetat, 1A1 was also expressed. Northern blot analysis confirmed the presence of CYP1B1 in monocytes and macrophages, a presence which was also demonstrated on the protein level by immunoblot and by immunohistochemical staining of the cells. The expression of several CYPs in monocytes/macrophages suggests that these cells may be important in the metabolism of small molecular weight compounds, which play a role in allergic contact dermatitis and drug reactions. Of particular interest is the remarkably strong expression of the recently identified dioxin inducible CYP1B1, known to be present in a wide range of malignant tumors.