OCP are xenobiotics which display various toxic effects on animal and human health. One of their effects is to bind and activate estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha). We have previously studied the down-regulation of induced CYP1A1 (cytochrome P450) expression by this class of molecules in mammary carcinoma cells and shown the importance of ERalpha in this process. However, an alternative mechanism was suggested by those experiments in hepatoma cells. In this study, we have performed Northern blot and transient transfection assays in various cell lines and shown that OCP activate human pregnane X receptor (PXR) and subsequent CYP3A4 mRNA expression. This effect is mediated by the distal xenobiotic responsive element modulator of the promoter. The induction of CYP3A4 by OCP was dose-dependent within the 1-10 microM range. The data suggest that chronic exposure to OCP could alter a major metabolite pathway in human liver and putatively modify the pharmacokinetics of drugs and pollutants.