The enantioselective esterification of racemic ibuprofen, catalyzed by a Candida cylindracea lipase, was studied in a water-in-oil microemulsion (AOT/isooctane). By using n-propanol as the alcohol, an optimal W(0) ([H(2)O]/[AOT] ratio) of 12 was found for the synthesis of n-propyl-ibuprofenate at room temperature. The lipase showed high preference for the S(+)-enantiomer of ibuprofen, which was esterified to the corresponding S(+)-ibuprofen ester. The R(-)-ibuprofen remained unesterified in the microemulsion. The calculated enantioselectivity value (E) for S-ibuprofen ester was greater than 150 (conversion 0.32). The enzyme activities of n-alcohols with different chain lengths (3-12) were compared, and it appeared that short- (propanol and butanol) and long-chained (decanol and dodecanol) alcohols were better substrates than the intermediate ones (pentanol, hexanol, and octanol). However, unlike secondary and tertiary alcohols, all of the tested primary alcohols were substrates for the lipase. The reversible reaction (i.e., the hydrolysis of racemic ibuprofen ester in the microemulsion) was also carried out enantioselectively by the enzyme. Only the S form of the ester was hydrolyzed to the corresponding S-ibuprofen. The reaction yield was, however, only about 4% after 10 days of reaction. The corresponding yield for the esterification of ibuprofen was about 35% (10 days). The high enantioselectivity displayed by the lipase in the microemulsion system was seen neither in a similar esterification reaction in a pure organic solvent system (isooctane) nor in the hydrolysis reaction in an aqueous system (buffer). The E value for S-ibuprofen ester in the isooctane system was 3.0 (conversion 0.41), and only 1.3 for S-ibuprofen in the hydrolysis reaction (conversion 0.32). The differences in enantioselectivity for the lipase in various systems are likely due to interfacial phenomena. In the microemulsion system, the water in which the enzyme is dissolved is separated from the solvent by a layer of surfactant molecules, thus creating an interface with a relatively large area. Such interfaces are not present in the pure organic solvent systems (no surfactant) nor in aqueous systems.