The bioactivation of 7-hydroxymethyl-12-methylbenz[a]anthracene (HMBA) to an electrophilic sulfuric acid ester metabolite has been shown to be catalyzed by rat liver bile acid sulfotransferase I (BAST I). The sulfation and activation of HMBA by BAST I was determined by the ability of sulfated HMBA to form DNA adducts. The BAST I was also shown to react with rabbit anti-human dehydroepiandrosterone sulfotransferase antisera and to represent a major form of hydroxysteroid/bile acid sulfotransferase in female rat liver cytosol. Higher levels of BAST I activity and immunoreactivity as well as HMBA-DNA adduct formation were detected in female rat liver cytosol than in male rat liver cytosol. The bioactivation of HMBA by pure BAST I was dependent on the presence of 3'-phosphoadenosine 5'-phosphosulfate (PAPS) in the reaction and was inhibited by dehydroepiandrosterone, a physiological substrate for BAST I. Glutathione, a cellular nucleophile with important protective properties, decreased DNA adduct formation in the HMBA sulfation reaction in the absence of glutathione S-transferase activity. These results indicate the usefulness of BAST I to investigate the sulfation and activation of HMBA and probably other hydroxymethylated polyaromatic hydrocarbons to electrophilic and mutagenic metabolites under defined reaction conditions.