We have recently reported that disease-specific differential alterations in the hepatic expression of xenobiotic-metabolizing cytochrome P450 (CYP P450) enzymes occur in patients with advanced liver disease. In order to determine whether the observed changes in CYP proteins are modulated at pre- or post-translational levels, we have now examined the hepatic levels of mRNA for CYPs 1A2, 2C9, 2E1 and 3A4 by solution hybridization in the same livers of 20 controls (surgical waste from histologically normal livers), 32 cases of hepatocellular and 18 of cholestatic severe chronic liver disease. CYP1A2 mRNA and CYP1A immunoreactive protein were both reduced in livers with hepatocellular and cholestatic types of cirrhosis. In contrast, CYP3A4 mRNA and protein were reduced only in livers from patients with hepatocellular diseases. For 1A2 and 3A4 there were significant correlations between mRNA species and the respective protein contents (rS1A2 = 0.74, rS3A4 = 0.64, P < 0.0001). CYP2C9 mRNA was reduced in patients with both cholestatic and hepatocellular types of liver disease, but 2C protein was reduced only in patients with cholestatic dysfunction. The correlation between CYP2C9 mRNA and protein, was also significant (rs = 0.36, P < 0.005) but mRNA levels accounted for only 13% of the variability in protein rankings. This is probably a consequence of other CYP2C proteins apart from 2C9 being detected by the anti-2C antibody. CYP2E1 mRNA and protein were reduced in patients with cholestatic liver disease, but in hepatocellular disease the expression of only CYP2E1 mRNA was decreased. CYP2E1 mRNA was significantly correlated with CYP2E1 protein but accounted for only 18% of the variability in protein rankings (rs = 0.43, P < 0.0005). Taken collectively these data indicate that the disease-specific alterations of xenobiotic-metabolizing CYP enzymes among patients with cirrhosis is due, at least in part, to pre-translational mechanisms. The lack of a strong correlation between CYP2E1 mRNA and protein suggests that this gene, like its rat orthologue, may be subject to pre-translational as well as translational and/or post-translational regulation.