Treatment of rats with dehydroepiandrosterone (300 mg/kg body weight, per os, 14 days) caused a remarkable increase in the number of peroxisomes and peroxisomal beta-oxidation activity in the liver. The activities of carnitine acetyltransferase, microsomal laurate 12-hydroxylation, cytosolic palmitoyl-CoA hydrolase, malic enzyme and some other enzymes were also increased. The increases in these enzyme activities were all greater in male rats than in female rats. Immunoblot analysis revealed remarkable induction of acyl-CoA oxidase and enoyl-CoA hydratase/3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase bifunctional enzyme in the liver and to a smaller extent in the kidney, whereas no significant induction of these enzymes was found in the heart. The increase in the hepatic peroxisomal beta-oxidation activity reached a maximal level at day 5 of the treatment of dehydroepiandrosterone and the increased activity rapidly returned to the normal level on discontinuation of the treatment. The increase in the activity was also dose-dependent, which was saturable at a dose of more than 200 mg/kg body weight. All these features in enzyme induction caused by dehydroepiandrosterone correlate well with those observed in the treatment of clofibric acid, a peroxisome proliferator. Co-treatment of dehydroepiandrosterone and clofibric acid showed no synergism in the enhancement of peroxisomal beta-oxidation activity, suggesting the involvement of a common process in the mechanism by which these compounds induce the enzymes. These results indicate that dehydroepiandrosterone is a typical peroxisome proliferator. Since dehydroepiandrosterone is a naturally occurring C19 steroid in mammals, the structure of which is novel compared with those of peroxisome proliferators known so far, this compound could provide particular information in the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the induction of peroxisome proliferation.