Adult hepatocytes from rat and man were maintained for 2 weeks between two gel layers in a sandwich configuration to study the influence of this culture technique on the preservation of basal activities of xenobiotic-metabolizing phase I and phase II enzymes. The response of these enzyme activities to an enzyme inducer was investigated using rifampicin (RIF). Basal levels of cytochrome P-450 (CYP) isozymes were characterized by measuring ethoxyresorufin O-deethylation (EROD), ethoxycoumarin O-deethylation (ECOD), and the specific oxidation of testosterone (T). In hepatocytes from untreated rats, CYP isozyme levels, including the major form CYP 2C11, increased during the first 3 days in culture. After this period of recovery, the levels of CYP 2C11, CYP 2A1, and CYP 2B1 decreased, whereas CYP 3A1 increased. In contrast to these dynamic changes, CYP activities such as CYP 1A2 and the major isozyme CYP 3A4 were largely preserved until day 9 in cultures of human hepatocytes. In measuring phase II activities, a distinct increase in glucuronosyltransferase (UDP-GT) activity toward p-nitrophenol (PNP) was found for rat and human hepatocytes over 2 weeks in culture. Sulfotransferase (ST) activity toward PNP showed an initial increase, with a maximum at day 7 and day 9 in culture, respectively, and then decreased until day 14. Glutathione S-transferase (GST) activity decreased constantly during the time of culture. Effects of the enzyme-inducing drug rifampicin on phase I and phase II enzymes were investigated using cultured human hepatocytes. Rifampicin treatment (50 micromol/L) for 7 days resulted in a 3.7-fold induction of CYP 3A4 at day 9 in culture. ECOD activity was increased sixfold and phase II ST activity increased twofold compared to the initial value at day 3. No effect of rifampicin on CYP 3A was found in cultures of rat hepatocytes. These results demonstrate that rat and human hepatocytes preserve the major forms of CYP isozymes and phase II activities and respond to inducing drugs such as rifampicin. The novel hepatocyte sandwich culture is suitable for investigating drug metabolism, drug-drug interactions and enzyme induction.