In previous papers we demonstrated that cyclosporin A (CsA) was specifically oxidized in rabbit and human liver by cytochrome P-450IIIA. We therefore anticipated that any drug that is an inducer or an inhibitor of this cytochrome should lead to interaction with CsA when given in association with it. In order to confirm this hypothesis, primary cultures of human hepatocytes and human liver microsomes were used to "reproduce" in vitro clinically significant interactions observed between CsA and drugs known either as specific inducers (i.e., rifampicin) or as specific inhibitors (i.e., erythromycin) of P-450IIIA. Our results were in close agreement with the clinical reports. Human hepatocytes maintained in primary cultures for 72 hr in the presence of 50 microM rifampicin exhibited increased levels of P-450IIIA, determined by Western blot using specific antibodies, and concomitant increase in CsA oxidase activity, determined by HPLC analysis of extra and intracellular media. Conversely, these cultures exhibited erythromycin concentration-dependent decreases in CsA oxidase activity when incubated in the presence of 5, 20, and 100 microM erythromycin. In addition, a Lineweaver-Burk analysis of the erythromycin-mediated inhibition of CsA oxidase activity in human liver microsomes revealed competitive inhibition (with Ki of 75 microM) as expected, this macrolide being a specific substrate of P-450IIIA. Using this experimental approach, 59 molecules representative of 17 different therapeutic classes were screened for inducers and inhibitors of CsA oxidase activity. Our results allowed us to elucidate the molecular mechanism of previously observed, but unexplained, drug interactions involving CsA, and to detect drugs that should interfere with CsA metabolism as inducers or inhibitors. Drugs detected as potential inducers of CsA oxidase included: rifampicin, sulfadimidine, phenobarbital, phenytoin, phenylbutazone, dexamethasone, sulfinpyrazone, and carbamazepine. Drugs detected as potential competitive inhibitors included: triacetyloleandomycin, erythromycin, josamycin, midecamycin, ketoconazole, miconazole, midazolam, nifedipin, diltiazem, verapamil, nicardipine, ergotamine, dihydroergotamine, glibenclamide, bromocriptine, ethynylestradiol, progesterone, cortisol, prednisone, prednisolone, and methylprednisolone. Finally, cefoperazone, cefotaxime, ceftazidime, isoniazide, doxycycline, spiramycin, sulfamethoxazole, norfloxacin, pefloxacin, vancocin, trimethoprim, amphotericin B, valproic acid, quinidine, cimetidine, ranitidine, omeprazole, diclofenac, aspirin, paracetamol, debrisoquine, guanoxan, captopril, furosemide, acetazolamide, sparteine, gliclazide, and imipramine were found not to interfere with the hepatic metabolism of CsA.