Important species differences have been reported concerning the induction properties of rifampicin towards enzymes of the P-450 superfamily. Mice, rabbits and humans are far more responsive than rats and guinea pigs. In the present study a strong induction of cytochrome P-450 3A-dependent enzyme activities was observed in female rat liver microsomes after high dose treatment (> or = 250 mg/kg/day for 9 days) with rifampicin, resulting in an up to 30-fold enhanced hydroxylation rate of testosterone in the 2 beta-, 6 beta- and 15 beta-position in vitro. Other cytochrome P-450 isozyme-selective reactions were not, or only marginally, affected. A steep increase in cytochrome P-450 3A activity on a moderate elevation of the dose administered, together with the previously observed lack of efficient induction with doses below 200 mg/kg/day demonstrated that there is a threshold in enzyme induction by rifampicin. For rifabutin such a threshold was not apparent. Induction by rifabutin showed an isoenzyme-selectivity profile similar to that produced by rifampicin, but the maximally achievable induction of cytochrome P-450 3A by rifabutin was about two-fold lower compared with rifampicin. Rifampicin and rifabutin enhanced the glucuronidation of 1-naphthol, 4-hydroxybiphenyl and beta-estradiol by a factor of two to three. The potential implications of the enzyme induction by rifampicin derivatives in terms of possible drug-drug interactions are discussed.