The aim of this study was to test suitable culture conditions for maintaining normal cellular cytoarchitecture and inducibility of P450 enzymes in primary cultures of human hepatocytes by prototypical inducers. The selectivity and sensitivity of a sandwich culture system were determined by treating cultures with a number of clinically relevant drugs that are known to be inducers of either rodent and/or human P450 enzymes. The results showed that considerable induction of CYP3A4 activity is observed at DMSO concentrations greater than 0.1% (v/v). No differences in P450 induction response were observed between cultures maintained under different matrix conditions. However, the matrix condition considered to be optimal for maintaining cellular integrity, protein yields, and P450 enzyme induction was a sandwich configuration in combination with modified Chee's medium containing insulin (6.25 microg/mL) and dexamethasone (< or =0.1 microM). Under these conditions, induction of CYP3A4 occurred at clinically relevant drug concentrations, and maximal activities were achieved after 3 days of exposure. Overall, the response of human hepatocyte cultures to treatment with both positive and negative modulators was found to reflect that observed in vivo with respect to both enzyme specificity and potency of enzyme induction, although considerable sample-to-sample variability was observed in the magnitude of induction.