Several reports indicate that some steroids, in particular sex steroid hormones, can modify cadmium toxicity. We recently reported that cyproterone acetate (CA), a synthetic steroidal antiandrogen that is closely related in structure to progesterone, affects cadmium toxicity in mice. In the present study, we investigated the effect of CA on cadmium toxicity in a rat liver epithelial cell line (TRL 1215) in vitro. Cells were exposed to various concentrations of CA (0,1,10, or 50 microM) for 24 h and subsequently exposed to cadmium (0,50, or 100 microM; as CdCl2) for an additional 24 h. CA pretreatment resulted in a clear decrease in the sensitivity to cadmium. Additional time course study showed CA pretreatment provided protection against cadmium toxicity but only when given for 6 or more hours prior to cadmium exposure. Cellular cadmium accumulation was markedly reduced (60% decrease) in cells pretreated for 6 or more hours with CA. In the presence of protein synthesis inhibitors the protective effect of CA toward cadmium toxicity was abolished. However, in the presence of the GSH synthesis inhibitor, L-buthionine (S,R)-sulfoximide (BSO), the protective effect of CA toward cadmium toxicity remained. CA alone increased metallothionein (MT) levels 2.4-fold, while cadmium (50 microM) alone resulted in a 8.9-fold increase over control. However, cadmium-induced MT synthesis was markedly decreased by CA pretreatment probably because of reduced cadmium accumulation. Analysis of various metal transporters by bDNA signal amplification assay revealed that the ZnT-1 transporter gene, which encodes for a membrane protein associated with zinc efflux, was expressed three-fold more in CA treated cells than control. These data show that CA pretreatment provides protection against cadmium toxicity in vitro and indicate that this protection is due to a decreased accumulation of cadmium rather than through activation of MT synthesis. This decrease of cellular cadmium accumulation appears to be related to events that require protein synthesis and may be due to activation of the genes associated with zinc efflux.