The concept of mechanistic toxicogenomics implies that compound-induced changes in gene expression profiles provide valuable information about their mode of action. A growing number of research groups have presented evidence that whole-genome gene expression profiling techniques might be used as tools for in vivo and in vitro generation of gene signatures and elucidation of molecular mechanisms after exposure to toxic compounds. An important issue to be investigated is the in vivo relevance of in vitro-obtained data. In the current study, we compare the gene expression profiles generated in vitro, after exposing conventional and epigenetically stabilized primary rat hepatocytes to well-known genotoxic hepatocarcinogens (aflatoxin B1, 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone and 2-nitrofluorene) with those derived in vivo after oral exposure of rats to these compounds. Similar statistical tools were applied on both sets of data. The major molecular pathways affected in the in vivo setting were DNA damage, detoxification and cell survival response, as previously described. In the conventional hepatocyte cultures, two of the three genotoxicants showed quite similar responses as in vivo with respect to these pathways. The third compound (2-nitrofluorene) revealed in vitro response which was not observed in vivo. In the epigenetically stabilized hepatocytes, in contrast to what was expected, the responses were less relevant for the in vivo situation. This study highlights the importance of in vitro/in vivo comparison of data that are generated using in vitro models and shows that conventional primary rat hepatocyte cultures represent an appropriate in vitro model to retrieve mechanistic information on the exposure to genotoxicants.