2,4,5,2',4',5'-hexachlorobiphenyl (HCB) induces hepatic microsomal cytochromes P450 with a similar selectivity for responsive genes to phenobarbital (PB). CYP2Bl, CYP2B2, CYP2C6, CYP3Al, and CYP2Al each showed large strain differences in induction by HCB Fisher F344 >> Wistar Furth (WF) that were much more evident in female rats, paralleling previous observations with PB. These five P450s and epoxide hydrolase were, however, induced more effectively by HCB than by PB and strain differences were even larger. With HCB, strain differences in male rats were much more apparent than with PB. This change was not due to the greater HCB induction since a 2-fold lower induction was maintained even with a 10-fold lower dose of HCB. The sex and strain differences were seen both by immunoblot analysis and by form-selective enzyme activity assays. induction of CYP2B1, CYP2B2, and CYP3A1 by HCB was decreased 3-fold when starvation during the final 24 hr was replaced by continuous feeding. This effect was similar in each strain and therefore independent of the regulatory processes associated with the differential suppression of induction in WF rats. This modulation of induction by feeding was also seen with PB which caused only a 30% lowering of induction in continuously fed F344 rats. A 52-kDa microsomal protein (p52) was prominently induced by both HCB and PB after starvation, while minor induction of a 50-kDa microsomal protein (p50) also occurred after the same treatment. Furthermore, a 100-kDa microsomal protein (p100) was induced by HCB but not by PB and only in rats that were continuously fed. These results suggest that the induction of multiple forms of P450 following HCB treatment functions through the same PB-stimulated pathway that shows a strain-dependent endocrine (GH/T3/testosterone)-sensitive suppression mechanism. The induction of p5O, p52, and plOO by HCB suggests the presence of at least two additional hepatic response mechanisms for HCB.