We investigated the structure-activity relationship in the induction of hepatic microsomal cytochrome P450 by clotrimazole and its structurally related compounds. For this purpose, we synthesized various compounds structurally analogous to clotrimazole and injected them into rats at a fixed dose of 0.2 mmol/kg. We found that the chlorine atom in clotrimazole was not necessary for the induction of cytochrome P450. The imidazole moiety of clotrimazole, however, was a very important structural component for the induction of cytochrome P450; triazole, but not pyrrole, could be substituted for this moiety. 1-Tritylimidazole, 1-diphenylmethylimidazole and 1-benzylimidazole were also found to be inducers of cytochrome P450, but, to a somewhat lesser extent, with a decreasing number of substituted phenyl groups. Thus, 1-benzylimidazole was a minimum structurally active unit for inducing cytochrome P450. In addition, 4-diphenylmethylpyridine and 4-benzylpyridine also induced cytochrome P450 to extents similar to those induced by the corresponding imidazole derivatives, but 4-benzylpiperidine lacked this effect. When the methylene unit of clotrimazole-related compounds was introduced by a hydroxy or amino group instead of imidazole, there was a less extensive increase in cytochrome P450 content. This inducing effect was lost completely by the lack of an imidazole moiety and imidazole itself. 1-Phenylethylimidazole and 1-benzylimidazole induced cytochrome P450 to a similar extent. All of these findings suggest that 1-substituted heteroaromatic compounds having two or more nitrogen atoms are likely to be required for inducing cytochrome P450. Immunoblot analysis revealed that clotrimazole and other various inducers found in this study increased cytochrome P450b/e content. These results could provide information on the effects of drugs and chemicals on cytochrome P450 induction.