Epidermal 7-ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase (EROD) activity was elevated greater than 100-fold within 4 to 7 h of topical treatment of SENCAR mice with 100 nmol dibenz[a,c]anthracene (DB[a,c]A). Treatment of skin with 2 micrograms of 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) 2 to 8 h prior to DB[a,c]A application suppressed induction by 80%. Suppression was dose-dependent over the range of 0.01 to 5 micrograms TPA (ID50 approximately 0.6 nmol). EROD activities in normal and TPA-treated epidermis paralleled steady state P450 CYP1A1 mRNA content. Analogs of TPA incapable of activating or down-regulating protein kinase C (PKC) did not suppress induction. Pretreatment of skin with sn-1,2-didecanoylglycerol, an activator of PKC which causes translocation but no down-regulation, did not suppress EROD induction. However, induction was suppressed by chrysarobin, an anthralin analog that causes PKC down-regulation in the absence of prior activation. These studies suggest that PKC participates in the processes associated with Cyp1a-1 induction and that TPA effects Cyp1a-1 induction through its down-regulation of PKC.