Very little is known of cytochrome P450 (P450) patterns and enzyme characteristics in food-producing animal species. Oxidative metabolism of alkoxyresorufins, ethylmorphine (EtM) and testosterone (TST) was used to monitor the effects of the P450 inducers phenobarbital (PB), beta-naphthoflavone (BNF), dexamethasone (DEX) and triacetyloleandomycin (TAO) in primary cultured hepatocytes from goats, sheep and cattle. BNF effectively and specifically induced ethoxyresorufin deethylase (> 20-fold), indicating the presence of an inducible P450 1A form, and down-regulated EtM demethylation and most selected TST hydroxylations. In non-induced hepatocyte cultures, TST was metabolized to 6 beta-, 2 beta-, 12 beta-, and 11 alpha-hydroxy-TST (OHT). PB and, to a lesser extent, DEX non-specifically induced all OHT formations, and EtM demethylation. TAO almost completely inhibited OHT formation and EtM demethylation. These results indicate the involvement of principally one P450 form, or a restricted number of related P450 forms, presumably belonging to the P450 3A subfamily. In western blot analysis, cross reactivity was found with rat anti-P450 3A1 and anti-sheep P450 3A. A more specific PB effect was observed for 16 alpha-OHT, which may be formed though a ruminant P450 2B form. None of the inducers influenced pentoxyresorufin depentylase (PROD) or EtM O-deethylation. Metabolite patterns and inducibility of selected activities in ruminant hepatocytes are in accordance with previous findings in goats in vivo. Cytochrome P450 characteristics in ruminants appear to differ from those in rats whereas similarities to the situation in humans appear to exist.