The metabolism of terfenadine was studied with a cDNA-expressed/purified recombinant fusion protein containing human liver microsomal cytochrome P4503A4 (CYP3A4) linked to rat NADPH-P450 reductase (rF450[mHum3A4/mRatOR]L1) and was compared with that observed in the presence of human liver microsomes and precision-cut human liver tissue slices. In all three cases, [3H]terfenadine was metabolized to at least three major metabolites. LC/MS (electrospray) analysis confirmed that these metabolites were alpha, alpha-diphenyl-4-piperidinomethanol (M5), t-butyl hydroxy terfenadine (M4), and t-butyl carboxy terfenadine (M3), although the level of M5 detected in the presence of fusion protein was greater than that found with microsomes or tissue slices. Two additional metabolites, M1 (microsomes and tissue slices) and M2 (fusion protein), were also detected, but remain uncharacterized. Consumption of parent drug (microsomes: KM = 9.58 +/- 2.79 microM, Vmax = 801 +/- 78.3 pmol/min/nmol CYP; fusion protein: KM = 14.1 +/- 1.13 microM, Vmax = 1670 +/- 170 pmol/min/nmol CYP) and t-butyl hydroxylation to M4 (microsomes: KM = 12.9 +/-3.74 microM, Vmax = 643 +/- 62.5 pmol/min/nmol CYP, ; fusion protein: KM = 30.0 +/- 2.55 microM, Vmax = 1050 +/- 141 pmol/min/nmol CYP) obeyed Michaelis-Menten kinetics over the terfenadine concentration range of 1-200 microM. Ketoconazole, a well-documented CYP3A inhibitor, effectively inhibited terfenadine metabolism in all three models. The conversion of M4 to M3, studied with human liver microsomes and fusion protein, was NADPH-dependent and inhibited by ketoconazole. It is concluded that cDNA-expressed CYP3A4, in the form of a NADPH-P450 reductase-linked fusion protein, may also serve as a model for studying the metabolism of terfenadine in vitro and many other drugs.