We examined the effect of hemin on rat hepatic microsomal cytochrome P450 (P450) and its molecular species (P450 2E1, 3A2, 2C11 and 2C12) under the induction of heme oxygenase activity in male and female rats. Hemin produced an inverse relationship between the induction of heme oxygenase activity and the decrease of P450 content in a dose-dependent manner. A time course study revealed that hemin produced a significant decrease in total P450 content in male rats to about 37% that of the controls at 24 hr after its administration. Western and Northern blot analyses revealed that the increase in both heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) protein and HO-1 mRNA reached a maximum at 24 hr and returned to control levels within 120 hr in both sexes. With respect to P450-dependent monooxygenase activities, we found that there was a significant decrease of aniline p-hydroxylase activity to about 30% of the control animals, but not in erythromycin N-demethylase activity at various time intervals. Immunoblot analysis revealed that P450 2E1 in male rat liver was dramatically decreased at 24 hr to about 20% of the controls, but not P450 3A2. Parallel to the decrease of androstenedione 16 alpha-hydroxylase activity, there was a marked decrease of P450 2C11 or 2C12 in male or female rats, respectively, at 72 hr after the treatment; however, hemin did not decrease androstenedione 16 alpha-hydroxylase activity in phenobarbital-pretreated rat liver. These findings suggest that hemin predominantly affects constitutively expressed isozymes rather than inducible P450 species in rat liver.