Rat foetal hepatocytes in primary cultures were used as a model for the study of malic enzyme gene expression. Carbohydrates and glycolytic metabolites produced the precocious induction of the malic enzyme in foetal hepatocytes cultured in the absence of serum and hormones. Palmitate prevented this induction. Insulin and triiodothyronine produced a significant increase in the malic enzyme specific activity in all the conditions studied. A synergistic effect between the two hormones is observed only when high concentrations of glucose are present. Glucagon prevents partially the induction produced by insulin plus triiodothyronine. Both carbohydrate and hormonal inductions of malic enzyme activity are related to parallel increases in its expression, and are prevented by protein synthesis inhibitors.