Cytochrome P450 1B1 (CYP1B1) is an activator of several xenobiotics and is induced in the liver upon experimental exposure to aromatic hydrocarbons. Since its cellular localization and regulation are incompletely clarified, Cyp1B1 expression and inducibility by 9,10-dimethyl-1,2-benzanthracene (DMBA) and inflammatory cytokines were investigated in different rat liver cell populations in vitro and in the liver during hepatocellular injury. Expression of Cyp1B1 was studied by Northern blot analysis in hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), myofibroblasts (MFs), Kupffer cells (KCs), and hepatocytes at various time points of primary cultures and in acutely damaged rat liver (carbon tetrachloride model). Enzyme inducibility was assessed by incubation of cells with DMBA as well as, in the case of HSCs, with tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and transforming growth factor beta1 (TGFbeta1). Cyp1B1 messengers were expressed at high levels by HSCs and MFs, whereas constitutive expression was not detectable in KCs or in hepatocytes. Cyp1B1-specific mRNA were expressed at highest levels in HSCs at an early stage of activation (2 days after plating) and were diminished upon further activation. DMBA strongly enhanced Cyp1B1 gene expression in HSCs, MFs, and in hepatocytes at day 3 of primary cultures, but not in hepatocytes at day 1, or in KCs. The inflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha enhanced the Cyp1B1 gene expression in HSCs, either when administered alone or in addition to DMBA, while TGFbeta1 did not affect Cyp1B1 expression, even after DMBA induction. We conclude that HSCs and MFs seem to be the major cellular sources of hepatic Cyp1B1 expression and that the constitutive expression of the Cyp1B1 gene and the responsiveness to DMBA stimulation differ between mesenchymal and parenchymal liver cells, indicating a cell-specific regulation of Cyp1B1 gene expression. Interestingly, TNF-alpha is a potent stimulator of the Cyp1B1 gene in HSCs and acts in concert with DMBA.