Carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), e.g., benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), possess a bay region comprising an ortho-fused benzene ring. Benzo[ghi]perylene (BghiP) represents the group of PAHs lacking such a "classic" bay region and hence cannot be metabolically converted like BaP to bay region dihydrodiol epoxides considered as ultimate mutagenic and carcinogenic metabolites of PAH. BghiP exhibits bacterial mutagenicity in strains TA98 (1.3 his(+)-revertant colonies/nmol) and TA100 (4.3 his(+)-revertant colonies/nmol) of Salmonella typhimurium after metabolic activation by the postmitochondrial hepatic fraction of CD rats treated with 3-methylcholanthrene. Inhibition of microsomal epoxide hydrolase (mEH) with 1,1,1-trichloro-2-propene oxide raised the bacterial mutagenicity of BghiP in TA98 almost 4-fold indicating arene oxides as ultimate mutagens. To confirm this assumption, the biotransformation of BghiP was elucidated. Incubation of BghiP with liver microsomes of CD rats treated with Aroclor 1254 yielded 17 ethyl acetate extractable metabolic products. Twelve metabolites were identified by a combination of chromatographic, spectroscopic, and biochemical methods. The microsomal biotransformation of BghiP proceeds by two pathways: Pathway I starts with the monooxygenase attack at the 7-position leading to the 7-phenol, which is transformed to the 7,8- and 7,10-diphenols followed by oxidation to the 7,8- and 7,10-quinones. On pathway II, the K regions of BghiP are successively converted to arene oxides yielding the indirectly identified 3,4-oxide and the 3,4,11,12-bisoxides. Enzymatic hydrolysis of the 3,4-oxide leads to the trans-3,4-dihydrodiol, which is oxidized to the 3,4-quinone. Similarly, the trans-3,4-trans-11,12-bisdihydrodiols and the trans-3,4-dihydrodiol 11,12-quinone are generated from the 3,4,11,12-bisoxides. The trans-3,4-dihydrodiol and the trans-3,4-trans-11,12-bisdihydrodiols are preferentially formed as R,R and R,R,R,R enantiomers, respectively. The intrinsic bacterial mutagenicity of the 3,4,11,12-bisoxides is rather low and hardly explains the strong increase in bacterial mutagenicity of BghiP after inhibition of mEH. Thus, we believe that the 3,4-oxide plays a more important role as the ultimate mutagenic metabolite of BghiP.