Humans express four epoxide hydrolase isozymes: mEH, sEH, EH3, and EH4. These isozymes are known (mEH and sEH) or presumed (EH3 and EH4) to share a common structure that includes containing an Alpha/beta hydrolase fold and a common reaction mechanism wherein they add water to epoxides to form vicinal cis (see (cis-trans isomerism); see (epoxide#Olefin oxidation using organic peroxides and metal catalysts)) diol products. They differ, however, in subcellular location, substrate preferences, tissue expression, and/or function.
mEH is widely expressed in virtually all mammalian cells as an endoplasmic reticulum-bound (i.e. microsomal-bound) enzyme with its C terminal catalytic domain facing the cytoplasm; in some tissues, however, mEH has been found bound to the cell surface plasma membrane with its catalytic domain facing the extracellular space. The primary function of mEH is to convert potentially toxic xenobiotics and other compounds that possess epoxide residues (which is often due to their initial metabolism by cytochrome P450 enzymes to epoxides) to diols. Epoxides are highly reactive electrophilic compounds that form adducts with DNA and proteins and also cause strand breaks in DHA; in consequence, epoxides can cause gene mutations, cancer, and the inactivation of critical proteins. The diols thereby formed are usually not toxic or far less toxic than their epoxide predecessors, are readily further metabolized, and ultimately excreted in the urine. mEH also metabolizes certain epoxides of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as the epoxyeicosatrienoic acids (EETs) but its activity in doing this is far less than that of sEH; mEH therefore may play a minor role, compared to sEH, in limiting the bioactivity of these cell signaling compounds (see microsomal epoxide hydrolase).
sEH is widely expressed in mammalian cells as a cytosolic enzyme where it primarily serves the function of converting epoxyeicosatrienoic acids (EETs), epoxyeicosatetraenoic acids (EPAs), and epoxydocosapentaenoic acids (DPAs) to their corresponding diols, thereby limiting or ending their cell signaling actions; in this capacity, sEH appears to play a critical in vivo role in limiting the effects of these epoxides in animal models and possibly humans. However, sEH also metabolizes the epoxides of linoleic acid viz., Vernolic acid (leukotoxins) and Coronaric acids (isoleukotoxins) to their corresponding diols which are highly toxic in animal models and possibly humans (see Vernolic acid#toxicity, Coronaric acid#toxicity, and soluble epoxide hydrolase). sEH also possesses hepoxilin-epoxide hydrolase activity, converting bioactive hepoxilins to their inactive trioxilin products (see below section "Hepoxilin-epoxide hydrolase").
Human EH3 is a recently characterized protein with epoxy hydrolase activity for metabolizing epoxyeicosatrienoic acids (EETs) and vernolic acids (leukotoxins) to their corresponding diols; in these capacities they may thereby limit the cell signaling activity of the EETs and contribute to the toxicity of the leukotoxins. mRNA for EH3 is most strongly expressed in the lung, skin, and upper gastrointestinal tract tissues of mice. The function of EH3 in humans, mice, or other mammals has not yet been determined although the gene for EH3 has been validated as being hypermethylated on CpG sites in its promoter region in human prostate cancer tissue, particularly in the tissues of more advanced or morphologically-based (i.e. Gleason score) more aggressive cancers; this suggests that the gene silencing of EH3 due to this hypermethylation may contribute to the onset and/or progression of prostate cancer. Similar CpG site hypermethylations in the promoter of for the EH3 gene have been validated for other cancers. This promoter methylation pattern, although not yet validated, was also found in human malignant melanoma.
The gene for EH4, EPHX4, is projected to encode an epoxide hydrolase closely related in amino acid sequence and structure to mEH, sEH, and EH3. The activity and function of EH4 has not yet been defined.