The comparative effects of simvastatin (a competitive inhibitor of HMG-CoA reductase) and ciprofibrate (another inhibitor of cholesterogenesis) on the incorporation of [14C]acetate and [3H]mevalonate into cholesterol HMG-CoA reductase activity, apo-B synthesis, LDL receptor, and their corresponding mRNAs, have been studied in the human hepatoma cell line Hep G2 and in human and rat hepatocytes in primary culture. Incubation of Hep G2 with simvastatin (0.01-1.5 microM) or ciprofibrate (25-100 microM) produced not only a marked inhibition of cholesterogenesis from [14C]acetate but also from [3H]mevalonate, an intermediate downstream of the HMG-CoA reductase reaction. However, in human and rat hepatocytes, cultured in similar conditions, simvastatin inhibited only the cholesterol synthesis from [14C]acetate, as expected. HMG-CoA reductase activity was greatly induced in Hep G2 and rat hepatocytes after incubation with simvastatin (up to 400% of controls), but not with ciprofibrate. Increased enzyme activity was accompanied by a higher cell content of reductase mRNA. Apo-B concentration in the medium of Hep G2 cells was 31% lower after 31 h incubation with simvastatin than in controls. However, neither simvastatin nor ciprofibrate modified the synthesis rate of apo-B or its mRNA level. Both LDL-receptor and its mRNA levels were raised by simvastatin at concentrations inhibiting cholesterol synthesis. Our data show that, in this human hepatoma cell line, HMG-CoA reductase competitive inhibition by simvastatin triggers a coordinate regulation of the expression of genes coding for reductase and LDL receptor but not for apo-B. Ciprofibrate, though efficient in inhibiting cholesterogenesis, did not induce the same regulatory reactions. The reason for this discrepancy is unknown.