Primary cultures of rat and human hepatocytes were used in our in vitro studies for investigating species differences in the response to a peroxisome proliferating benzofuran derivative, benzbromarone. Cyanide-insensitive palmitoyl coenzyme A oxidation (a marker of peroxisome fatty acid beta-oxidation) and electron microscopy were used to assess peroxisome proliferation. Hepatocytes were cultured essentially as described by Mitchell et al. (1984, Arch. Toxicol. 55, 239-246); clofibric acid and mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP) were used as reference compounds, as they are well known to cause peroxisome proliferation in rat hepatocytes in primary culture. The benzofuran derivative, tested at drug concentrations ranging from 2.37 to 59.20 microM in rat hepatocyte primary cultures, induced, after 96 hr, a dose-related increase of the peroxisomal beta-oxidase activity correlated with an increased number of peroxisomes; this increase was much less marked than that obtained with clofibric acid or MEHP. By contrast, using the same range of concentrations, human hepatocytes in primary culture treated with benzbromarone revealed no enhancement of enzymatic activity and no concomitant statistically significant increase in the number of peroxisomes; the same observations were reported with clofibric acid and MEHP. These results demonstrate clearly that species differences in sensitivity to peroxisome proliferation with the benzofuran derivative do exist.