The use of hepatocyte cultures is well established for the study of drug-drug interactions. However, the major hindrance for the use of human hepatocyte cultures is that human hepatocytes are only occasionally available. This problem could be overcome by cryopreservation. Although cryopreserved hepatocytes have been recommended for short term applications in suspension, studies on induction of enzyme activity, requiring a more prolonged maintenance of cryopreserved hepatocytes in culture, represent a new field of research. In the present study, we established a technique that allows preparation of rat hepatocyte co-cultures, using cryopreserved hepatocytes. After incubation with phenobarbital (0.75 mM; 72 h) induction factors for the isoenzyme-dependent regio and stereoselective testosterone hydroxylations were 1.6, 2.2, 1.0, 2.1, 5.6, 2.4, 3.6, 4.5 and 0.9 for 2alpha-, 2beta-, 6alpha-, 6beta-, 7alpha-, 15beta-, 16alpha- and 16beta-hydroxytestosterone and 4-androsten-3,17 dione. Regarding induction factors of less than 2-fold, as questionable these induction factors were similar to those of cultures with freshly isolated hepatocytes and the induction pattern of the individual hydroxylation products was similar to the in vivo situation. In addition 3-methylcholanthrene (5 microM; 72 h) induced exclusively the formation of 7alpha-hydroxytestosterone (6.6-fold) in cultures with cryopreserved hepatocytes. This specificity also correlates to that obtained in rats. Although these induction factors were clearly satisfactory in cryopreserved cultures, the absolute activities of the main testosterone hydroxylation products were reduced when compared to fresh cultures. For instance, 6beta-hydroxytestosterone, the main metabolite in solvent controls was reduced to 79%, 7alpha-hydroxytestosterone, the main metabolite after induction with 3-MC, was reduced to 66% and 16beta-hydroxytestosterone, the main metabolite after induction with PB, was reduced to 52%. Similarly, EROD activity after induction with 3-methylcholanthrene in cryopreserved cultures was reduced to 62%, compared with that in fresh cultures. Although further optimization and validation is required, the data show that cytochrome P450 activities can clearly be induced in co-cultures of cryopreserved hepatocytes, in a fashion which for the investigated inducers, is similar to that in cultures from freshly isolated hepatocytes and similar to the in vivo situation.