Aristolochic acids (AA) are implicated in the development of chronic renal disease and upper urinary tract carcinoma in humans. Using in vitro approaches, we demonstrated that N-hydroxyaristolactams, metabolites derived from partial nitroreduction of AA, require sulfotransferase (SULT)-catalyzed conjugation with a sulfonyl group to form aristolactam-DNA adducts. Following up on this observation, bioactivation of AA-I and N-hydroxyaristolactam I (AL-I-NOH) was studied in human kidney (HK-2) and skin fibroblast (GM00637) cell lines. Pentachlorophenol, a known SULT inhibitor, significantly reduced cell death and aristolactam-DNA adduct levels in HK-2 cells following exposure to AA-I and AL-I-NOH, suggesting a role for Phase II metabolism in AA activation. A gene knockdown, siRNA approach was employed to establish the involvement of selected SULTs and nitroreductases in AA-I bioactivation. Silencing of SULT1A1 and PAPSS2 led to a significant decrease in aristolactam-DNA levels in both cell lines following exposure to AA-I, indicating the critical role for sulfonation in the activation of AA-I in vivo. Since HK-2 cells proved relatively resistant to knockdown with siRNAs, gene silencing of xanthine oxidoreductase, cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase and NADPH:quinone oxidoreductase was conducted in GM00637 cells, showing a significant increase, decrease and no effect on aristolactam-DNA levels, respectively. In GM00637 cells exposed to AL-I-NOH, suppressing the SULT pathway led to a significant decrease in aristolactam-DNA formation, mirroring data obtained for AA-I. We conclude from these studies that SULT1A1 is involved in the bioactivation of AA-I through the sulfonation of AL-I-NOH, contributing significantly to the toxicities of AA observed in vivo.