The metabolism of the illegal growth promoter ethylestrenol (EES) was evaluated in bovine liver cells and subcellular fractions of bovine liver preparations. Incubations with bovine microsomal preparations revealed that EES is extensively biotransformed into norethandrolone (NE), another illegal growth promoter. Furthermore, incubations of monolayer cultures of hepatocytes with NE indicated that NE itself is rapidly reduced to 17α-ethyl-5β-estrane-3α,17β-diol (EED). In vivo tests confirmed that, after administration of either EES or NE, EED is excreted as a major metabolite. Therefore, it was concluded that, both in urine and faeces samples, EED can be used as a biological marker for the illegal use of EES and/or NE. Moreover, by monitoring EED in urine or faeces samples, the detection period after NE administration is significantly prolonged. These findings were further confirmed by three cases of norethandrolone abuse in a routine screening program for forbidden growth promoters. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.