Glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) and epoxide hydrolases (EHs) protect cells from exogenous insult by detoxifying electrophilic compounds. Little is known about these enzyme systems during postnatal lung development. This study was designed to help establish whether the heightened neonatal susceptibility of the lung to bioactivated cytotoxicants is the result of inadequate ability to detoxify reactive intermediates. We compared the distribution of immunoreactive protein and enzymatic activity of GSTs and EHs in isolated distal airways during pre- and postnatal development in lungs of mice from 16 days gestation to 9 weeks postnatal age (adult), GST alpha, mu, and pi class protein expression in fetal and postnatal lung varied by isozyme and age. Isozymes alpha and mu are expressed at low levels before birth, high levels on postnatal day 7, low levels between postnatal days 14 and 21, high levels at postnatal day 28, and slightly lower levels in adults. Immunoreactive protein of isozyme pi has a peak expression on gestational day 18 and again on postnatal day 4, is undetectable at postnatal day 21, and is at peak levels in the adult mouse lung. GST activity in distal airways increased with age. Microsomal EH protein expression increased in intensity with age, while activity was similar in airways from all ages. We conclude that in the mouse lung (1) cellular expression of glutathione S-transferase varies by age and isozyme and does not increase with increasing age, (2) airway glutathione S-transferase activity increases with increasing age and does not correlate with immunoreactive protein expression, and (3) airway microsomal epoxide hydrolase activity does not increase, even though immunoreactive protein expression does increase with age. (C) 2000 Academic Press.