1. Chronic renal failure (CRF) is associated with a decrease in liver cytochrome p450 (p450). The mechanism remains poorly understood. The present study aimed to investigate the effects of the serum of rats with CRF on liver p450. 2. Normal rat hepatocytes were incubated for 24 h with serum (concentration of 10%) from rats with CRF and from control animals in order to measure (1). total p450 level, (2). protein expression and mRNA levels of major p450 isoforms, and (3). some of their specific metabolic activities (N-demethylation of erythromycin). Time-course experiments (incubation time from 12 to 48 h) and dose-response curves (concentration of serum ranging from 1 to 30%) have been conducted. 3. In normal hepatocytes incubated for 24 h with serum (concentration of 10%) from rats with CRF, total p450 level, protein expression and mRNA levels of several p450 isoforms (CYP2C6, 2C11, 3A1 and 3A2) were decreased by more than 35% (P<0.001) compared to serum from control animals. The protein expression as well as the mRNA levels of CYP2D were similar in hepatocytes incubated with serum from either control or CRF rats. The N-demethylation of erythromycin was decreased by more than 35% (P<0.001) in hepatocytes incubated with serum from rats with CRF. The inhibitory effect of serum from rats with CRF tended to peak at 48 h of incubation and was maximum at a concentration of 20%. 4. In conclusion, uremic serum contains mediator(s) that down-regulate the cytochrome p450 of normal hepatocytes secondary to reduced gene expression.