The metabolism of 2-acetylaminofluorene (AAF) to its six oxidative metabolites has been used to investigate the effect of dexamethasone on cytochrome P-450 activity in cultured rat hepatocytes. In control hepatocytes the metabolism of AAF to its 1-, 5-, 7-, 9- and N-hydroxylated metabolites rapidly declined in culture over the first 24 hr while 3-hydroxylation remained relatively constant. These activities either remained unchanged or increased slightly during the next 48 hr in culture. The addition of dexamethasone (100 nM) to the culture medium had little effect in arresting the initial decline but by 72 hr the 7-, 5- and 3-hydroxylations increased to values 2.5, 16 and 21 times the respective 24-hr values. The inductive effect of dexamethasone on the 3- and 5-hydroxylations of AAF was maximal at 100 nM whereas the 7-hydroxylation increased linearly as a function of the dexamethasone concentration up to l μM. Cortisol and corticosterone and the non-glucocorticoids fluoxymesterone and methyl-testosterone induced a pattern of AAF metabolism resembling that in dexamethasone-treated cultures, suggesting that a range of steroids not restricted to glucocorticoids may induce multiple cytochrome P-450 isozymes via related mechanisms. Pregnenolone 16α-carbonitrile induced only the 7-hydroxylation of AAF probably reflecting induction of cytochrome P-450p. While dexamethasone was a strong inducer of the 3- and 5-hydroxylations of AAF in hepatocyte culture, assay of these activities in freshly isolated cells after in vivo treatment with dexamethasone showed a strong induction of 7-hydroxylation but only small effects on 3- and 5-hydroxylations. Indeed the profile of AAF metabolism induced in culture by dexamethasone resembles more closely the profile induced by 3-methylcholanthrene in vivo. These data suggest that factors yet to be identified strongly influence the steroid-induced pattern of cytochrome P-450 gene expression.