Exposure to specific polychlorinated diaromatic hydrocarbons (PCDH), such as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD, dioxin), produces a wide variety of species- and tissue-specific toxic and biological effects. Many of these responses are mediated by the Ah receptor (AhR) and are modulated by the interaction of the PCDH:AhR complex with its DNA recognition sequence (the dioxin-responsive element (DRE)). We have constructed a recombinant expression plasmid which contains the luciferase gene under TCDD-inducible control of several DREs and responds to TCDD-like chemicals with the induction of firefly luciferase. Stable transfection of this vector into various cell lines has produced a series of species-specific cell bioassay systems that respond to TCDD-like chemicals with the induction of luciferase in a time-, dose-, and AhR-dependent manner. In addition, these cell lines have been used to demonstrate that 2,2',5,5'-tetrachlorobiphenyl can act as a species-specific AhR antagonist. Overall, these recombinant cell lines can be used for the detection and relative quantitation of AhR agonists/antagonists in complex mixtures of environmental and biological samples, for identification and characterization of novel AhR agonists, and for examination of species differences in PCDH responsiveness.