Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), administered per os, serves to prevent or retard the development of a variety of genetic and induced disorders in mice and rats. This treatment also results in the development of hepatomegaly, a change of liver color from pink to mahogany, peroxisome proliferation in hepatocytes and alterations in hepatocyte mitochondria morphology and respiration. We used one- and two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) to identify changes in the relative levels of liver proteins produced by DHEA treatment of rodents. In mouse liver, there were apparent increases in the levels of 26 proteins and decreases in the levels of 7 proteins. Of the induced proteins the most prominent had Mr approximately 72 K; this protein was identified in a previous study as enoyl-CoA hydratase/3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase. Another protein of Mr approximately 28 K, of unknown nature, also was induced markedly by DHEA treatment of mice and rats. A protein of Mr approximately 160 K, which was identified as carbamoyl phosphate synthetase-I (CPS-I), was decreased markedly by DHEA action. This enzyme, which comprises approx. 15-20% of mitochondrial matrix protein, is involved in the entry and rate-limiting step of the urea cycle. The specific activity of CPS-I also was significantly decreased by DHEA, but serum urea levels were normal. To determine whether steroids other than DHEA also induced similar changes, mice were treated with various steroids for 14 days and, thereafter, liver proteins were evaluated by SDS-PAGE: estradiol-17 beta and isoandrosterone induced both the approximately 72 and approximately 28 kDa proteins, testosterone and androsterone induced the 28 kDa protein only, but etiocholanolone, pregnenolone and progesterone were without effect. The findings of this study serve to demonstrate that: (i) hepatic protein levels are affected by DHEA treatment of mice and rats; (ii) liver CPS-I activity is decreased significantly by DHEA treatment, but serum urea levels remain within the normal range; and (iii) sex steroids and some of their precursors, when administered per os, also alter liver protein levels.