LKM1 autoantibody, directed against P450IID6, is accepted as a marker of a particular type of autoimmune hepatitis, but its role in the pathogenesis of the disease is controversial. Localization of P450IID6 on the cell surface of rat hepatocytes was previously reported, suggesting that membrane-bound P450IID6 could be the target of LKM1 antibodies, thus allowing immune lysis of hepatocytes. The objective of the present study was to determine, using various methods, the cell localization of P450IID6 in human and rat hepatocytes. Incubation of rat and human hepatocytes with LKM1-positive serum showed slight, if any, cell membrane staining using immunofluorescence, immunoperoxidase and immunoelectron microscopic studies. No staining of the plasma membrane of human hepatocytes was observed when incubations were carried out with immunoaffinity-purified antibody directed against peptide 254-271, the main epitope of P450IID6 recognized by all LKM1 sera tested. Chinese hamster ovary cells, transfected with the complete P450IID6 cDNA and incubated with the supernatant from a B cell lymphoblastoid cell line prepared with the lymphocytes of a LKM1-positive patient, did not show any staining of the cell surface by immunofluorescence. Incubation of rat microsomal fraction vesicles with LKM1-positive serum, followed by protein A-gold immunoelectron microscopy, displayed a staining of almost all vesicles, confirming that P450IID6 is present on the cytoplasmic side of the microsomal membrane, which makes it unable to be expressed on the cell surface even if it were transported from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Sulpho NHS Biotin labelling of rat hepatocyte cell membranes did not show the presence of a 50-kD molecule that could have reacted with LKM1 antibody. DNA sequencing of exon 1 of the CYP2D6 gene of a patient positive for LKM1 antibody did not show any difference from that of the normal published sequence of the gene. This does not favour an alteration of the NH2 terminal sequence of the P450IID6 molecule that could explain a translocation of the molecule to the luminal side of the ER, allowing its expression on the cell surface. These results indicate that, in all likelihood, P450IID6 molecule is not present on the cell surface of normal rat and human hepatocytes. Other mechanisms than antibody-mediated cell lysis directed against membrane P450IID6 antigenic determinants must be found to account for the destruction of hepatocytes observed in this disease.