The effect of Ca2+ or Mg2+ on cytochrome b5 reduction by porcine liver microsomes was examined using trypsin-solubilized cytochrome b5 as a substrate. The reduction of exogenous cytochrome b5 by microsomes was low at 1.2 microM cytochrome b5 (3.9 or 2.7 nmol/min/mg protein, respectively, with NADH or NADPH). The addition of CaCl2 greatly enhanced either NADH-dependent or NADPH-dependent cytochrome b5 reduction. At 2 mM CaCl2, the reduction rate was increased to 23- or 18-fold of control, respectively with NADH or NADPH. The concentration for half-maximal effect (EC50) was 0.5 or 0.6 mM in the NADH or NADPH systems, respectively. MgCl2 also stimulated cytochrome b5 reduction with a EC50 value of 1.0 mM in the NADH system or 0.6 mM in the NADPH system. The comparison with the result with KCl indicated that the activation by CaCl2 or MgCl2 is caused mainly by their divalent cation moiety. The Km value for cytochrome b5 was decreased and the Vmax was increased by calcium with either the NADH- or the NADPH-dependent system. NADH-ferricyanide reductase activity was not affected by calcium, but NADPH-ferricyanide reductase activity was stimulated as well as NADPH-cytochrome c reductase activity. In the presence of Triton X-100, divalent cations were inhibitory in NADH-dependent cytochrome b5 reduction, and in contrast, stimulative in NADPH-dependent reaction. These findings suggest that the activation of cytochrome b5 reduction by divalent cations in the NADH system is mainly due to an increasing accessibility of the substrate, and in the NADPH system, in addition to this, a direct effect of divalent cations on NADPH-cytochrome P450 reductase is also involved.