Metabolism of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) has been studied intensively, and potential metabolites with estrogenic activity have been identified previously. However, little attention has been paid to the metabolic pathways in mammalians and to the combined effect of individual metabolites. Several hydroxylated metabolites of benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) and chrysene (CHN) were formed by rat liver microsomal cytochrome P450 (CYP) activity, some of which possess estrogenic activity. All mono- and several dihydroxylated metabolites of BaP and CHN were tested for ER affinity and estrogenic activity in a proliferation assay (E-screen) and in a reporter-gene assay (ER-CALUX). Twelve estrogenic metabolites were identified with EC50 values ranging from 40 nM to 0.15 mM. The combined effect of a mixture of seven PAH-metabolites was also studied in the ER binding assay. At concentrations that show little activity themselves, their joint action clearly exhibited significant estrogenic activity. BaP itself exhibited estrogenicity in the ER-CALUX assay due to bio-activation into estrogenic metabolites, probably via aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) induced CYP activity. Furthermore, 2-hydroxy-CHN (2-OHCHN) induced supra-maximal (400%) estrogenic effects in the ER-CALUX assay. This effect was entirely ER-mediated, since the response was completely blocked with the ER-antagonist ICI182,780. We showed that 2-OHCHN increased ER-concentration, using ELISA techniques, which may explain the observed supra-maximal effects. Co-treatment with the AhR-antagonist 3′,4′-dimethoxyflavone (DMF) enhanced ER-signaling, possibly via blockage of AhR-ER inhibitory cross-talk. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.