Regulation of multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP2) expression in response to dexamethasone (DEX) was analyzed using mainly primary rat hepatocytes. Enhanced levels of MRP2 mRNAs associated with increased amounts of a 190 kDa MRP2 were found in cultured DEX-treated hepatocytes; similarly, administration of DEX to rats (100 mg/kg, i.p.) led to a marked increase of hepatic amounts of MRP2 mRNAs. Maximal induction of MRP2 expression in DEX-treated primary hepatocytes was reached with 10(-5) M DEX, a concentration higher than that (10(-7) M) required for maximal up-regulation of tyrosine aminotransferase (TAT), a typical glucocorticoid receptor-regulated enzyme. In addition, the anti-glucocorticoid compound RU486 failed to inhibit MRP2 induction caused by DEX whereas it fully blocked that of TAT. These findings therefore demonstrate that DEX is a potent inducer of MRP2 expression in rat hepatocytes through a mechanism that seems not to involve the classical glucocorticoid receptor pathway.