Groups of male Wistar rats were fed semi-synthetic diets containing 0, 200 or 500 mg indole-3-carbinol (13C)/kg for 2, 7, 14 or 28 days. After 2 days, P-450 activities were already induced, but the isoenzyme pattern induced was different in the liver and the small intestine. Hepatic P4501A1, P4501A2 and P4502B1 apoprotein levels were dose-relatedly enhanced, whereas in the small intestine induced levels of P4502B1 and P4501A1 were detected but P4501A2 was not induced. Pentoxy- and ethoxyresorufin dealkylation (PROD and EROD) were dose-relatedly enhanced in the liver (5- and 7-fold, respectively, in the higher dose group) as well as in the small intestine (8- and 13-fold, respectively, at 500 mg 13C/kg diet). Testosterone 16 alpha- and 16 beta-hydroxylation in the small intestine were enhanced (6-9-fold) from day 2 onwards, but in the liver these activities were only slightly enhanced from day 7 onwards. Thus, the major forms induced in the liver appear to be P4501A1, P4501A2, P4502B1 and, to a lesser extent, P4503A, whereas in the small intestine all of the effects that were found are associated with only one cytochrome P-450, P4502B1. After 2 days I3C (500 mg/kg) induced glutathione S-transferase in the liver (1.3-fold) and small intestine (1.5-fold). Hepatic glucuronyl transferase (GT1) was induced (about 1.6-fold) after 7, 14 and 28 days. DT-diaphorase was induced in the liver (2.7-fold) and small intestine (1.5-fold) after 14 days of exposure to 500 mg I3C/kg diet. Treatment of rat hepatocytes with indole-3-acetonitrile and 3,3'-diindolylmethane, but not I3C and indole-3-carboxaldehyde, enhanced EROD activity and halved testosterone 16 alpha- and 2 alpha-hydroxylation. All four indoles slightly induced glutathione S-transferase in cultured hepatocytes. Thus, the in vitro studies suggest that the in vivo effects of I3C have to be attributed to indole-condensation products, such as 3,3'-diindolylmethane, but not to I3C itself.