Maintenance of microsomal cytochrome P-450 content by cultured rat hepatocytes has proven an elusive goal. It is reported here that exogenous heme maintains cytochrome P-450 content of cultured rat hepatocytes at high levels during the first 72 h of incubation. The maintenance studies have been expanded to demonstrate the in vitro induction of cytochrome P-450 by phenobarbital treatment. The induction of P-450 in vitro by phenobarbital required the trace element, selenium, in the presence of exogenous heme. The present findings suggest that selenium, and other trace elements, may have an essential role in the formation of holocytochrome P-450 in vitro.