Details concerning the endogenous regulation of hepatic cytochrome P450 monooxygenases in teleosts, and the features of this regulation common among fish species, are poorly known. Gonadally mature female winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) have been reported to have severalfold lower levels of microsomal cytochromes P450 and b5 and NADPH-cytochrome c reductase than do males (Stegeman and Woodin ('84) Mar. Environ. Res., 14:422-425). These strong sex differences prompted more detailed study of P450 regulation in winter flounder liver, and a comparison with sex differences in another marine teleost, scup (Stenotomus chrysops). Ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase (EROD) activity/nmol P450 was less in gonadally mature females than in males of both species. Immunoblot analysis with MAb 1-12-3 to P450E (the EROD catalyst) showed that the content of P450E counterpart was also much less in females of both species. Aminopyrine N-demethylase (APND) and testosterone 6 beta-hydroxylase (6 beta-OHase) activities per nmol P450 were higher in gonadally mature female than in mature male flounder, differences not seen in scup. Polyclonal antibodies to scup P450A were shown to detect proteins in a number of teleosts. The levels of anti-P450A cross-reacting protein were greater in mature female than in male flounder, but as with 6 beta-OHase activity, the content of this protein was not sexually differentiated in scup. Estradiol treatment of winter flounder depressed the rates of EROD, APND, 6 beta-OHase, and estradiol 2-OHase activities per mg protein, but APND and 6 beta-OHase activities per nmol P450 were unchanged. Thus, E2 promotes general decreases in some hepatic P450-catalyzed activities, but in achieving sex differences there is also specific regulation of the P450E counterpart, and possibly of the 6 beta-OHase (P450A?). Other factors, temporal or hormonal, can modify the effect of E2 treatment, and may contribute to the specific regulation of P450 forms in naturally maturing fish, and to species differences in this regulation.