The influence of cell density and epidermal growth factor (EGF) on the expression and inducibility of cytochrome P450 (CYP) genes of the CYP3A and CYP1A families in adult human hepatocytes in primary culture has been evaluated. Only when cultured at subconfluence and in the presence of EGF did hepatocytes exhibit a proliferative response, assessed by measuring DNA synthesis and cyclin A accumulation. In the absence of EGF, the accumulation of CYP3A4 and CYP1A2 messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in response to their respective inducers (rifampicin and dioxin) was dramatically decreased in subconfluent culture with respect to confluent cultures. The presence of EGF only slightly decreased the accumulation of these mRNAs in both confluent and subconfluent cultures. The accumulation of CYP2D6 and CYP2E1 proteins, which are constitutively expressed in confluent cultures, and the production of fibrinogen and apolipoprotein (Apo) B100 exhibited similar behavior, while nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate cytochrome c reductase activity was affected neither by cell density nor by EGF. In contrast, the accumulation of CYP1A1 mRNA in response to dioxin was similar in confluent and subconfluent cultures, irrespective of the presence of EGF. Interestingly, CYP3A7, a gene that is preferentially expressed in the fetal liver, was expressed constitutively neither in confluent nor in subconfluent cultures, irrespective of the presence of EGF. It is concluded that the loss of cell-cell contacts rather than the proliferative status of cells per se is responsible for the dramatic decrease in the expression of CYP genes, normally expressed in the adult human liver.