Hepatocytes grown in culture rapidly lose many of the cytochromes P450 (CYP) responsible for metabolizing foreign compounds. Among the proteins most readily lost are members of the CYP2B subfamily. We have investigated, by RNase protection assays, the ability of rat hepatocytes, cultured conventionally or co-cultured with rat liver epithelial cells, to maintain the expression of genes encoding members of the CYP2B subfamily, and the inducibility of this expression by phenobarbital. After 4 days of conventional hepatocyte culture CYP2B mRNAs were undetectable, but remained inducible by phenobarbital. In co-cultured hepatocytes the abundance of the mRNAs remained relatively constant from 4-14 days. After 7 days of co-culture the concentration of the mRNAs was increased 12-15-fold by phenobarbital. RNase protection assays with probes capable of distinguishing between CYP2B1 and 2B2 mRNAs demonstrated that the ratios of the abundance and inducibility of the two mRNAs were the same in co-culture as in vivo. Co-cultured hepatocytes also maintained the expression of genes coding for two other components of the cytochrome P450-mediated mono-oxygenase, namely cytochrome P450 reductase and cytochrome b5.