Cultured adult rat hepatocytes incubated in media containing fructose exhibit increased levels of cytochrome P-450, relative to cells incubated with equimolar glucose, and the effect of fructose is proportional to its concentration between 2 and 10 mM. For investigating the mechanism of the effect of fructose on cytochrome P-450 in cultured cells, [U-14C]fructose or [U-14C]glucose were added to the incubation medium, and their uptake and utilization were compared. While the uptake kinetics of the two hexoses were similar, the rate of phosphorylation of fructose was more than 10-fold that of glucose. Similarly, the appearance of fructose carbon in metabolic pools, as well as its conversion to CO2 and cellular glycerolipid, was increased. The latter finding suggested that fructose might alter cytochrome P-450 by stimulating glycerolipid synthesis, since the stability of the cytochrome is lipid-dependent. However, the changes in glycerolipid formation failed to parallel changes in the level of cytochrome P-450 in fructose-treated cells. Moreover, the relative distribution of 14C into specific lipids was similar for both hexoses, suggesting that an increased carbon flux in cells incubated with fructose did not directly impose a qualitative change in cellular lipid synthesis. We conclude that the fructose-mediated alteration of cytochrome P-450 in cultured rat hepatocytes reflects a process other than increased incorporation of fructose carbon into metabolic pools.