A cell line (HuL-1) derived from normal fetal human liver was adapted to grow continuously in a modified Eagle's minimum essential medium without serum or hormones. The population doubling time of this adapted cell line (HuL-1-317) was about 72 h and the modal number of chromosomes was 54. The morphology of HuL-1-317 cells was round in the absence of serum, but at 37 degrees C with the addition of serum (1-10%), the cells flattened. HuL-1-317 cells had a low level of alkaline phosphatase activity. However the enzyme activity was slightly enhanced by the combination of prednisolone, butyrate, dibutyryl cyclic adenosine monophosphate and a hypertonic concentration of NaCl after 3 days of incubation at 37 degrees C. The increase in alkaline phosphatase activity with the four agents was further amplified dose-dependently by the pretreatment of the cells with serum. The stimulatory effect of the serum was evident at concentrations as low as 1%, and was maximal at 20%. The half life of the effect of serum on alkaline phosphatase induction was 48 h at 37 degrees C. Serum alone could not enhance the enzyme activity without the four agents. The present results indicate that serum contributes to the regulation of alkaline phosphatase induction by the combination of prednisolone, butyrate, dibutyryl cyclic adenosine monophosphate and NaCl in fetal human liver cells (HuL-1-317).