Microsomal epoxide hydrolase (HYL1) is a single-gene enzyme responsible for the hydrolysis of epoxides derived from the oxidative metabolism of xenobiotics. Variation in HYL1, therefore, may be an important determinant of drug toxicity. We have investigated HYL1 enzyme kinetics in six different species including man, for which a liver bank genotyped for polymorphisms in exons 3 and 4 of the HYL1 gene was used. Activity was measured by radiochromatography with high specific activity radiolabeled substrates, cis-stilbene oxide (CSO) and carbamazepine 10,11-epoxide (CBZ-E). In addition, naphthalene was used to investigate the hydrolysis of an epoxide (naphthalene 1,2-epoxide [N-E] generated in situ. There was marked species variation in enzyme activity that was substrate dependent. CSO was rapidly hydrolyzed by microsomes from all species, the rank order of specific activity being human > rabbit > dog > rat > hamster > mouse. In contrast, hydrolysis of CBZ-E was only observed with human liver microsomes. CBZ-E was only a weak (IC50 = 1 mM) inhibitor of CSO hydrolysis. The hydrolysis of N-E, determined as the diol-to-total metabolite ratio, was human > rabbit > dog > hamster > mouse > rat. Intraspecies variation in man was 4-fold, 7-fold and 2-fold for CSO, CBZ-E and N-E, respectively: none of this variation could be directly accounted for by the HYL1 polymorphisms in exons 3 and 4. These data emphasize the need for careful toxicokinetic evaluation of species used in the safety evaluation of compounds likely to form epoxide intermediates in vivo.