Adult Atlantic tomcod, Microgadus tomcod, from the Hudson River, New York State, USA, exhibit reduced inducibility of hepatic cytochrome P4501A1 (CYP1A1) mRNA compared with adult tomcod from the cleaner Miramichi River, New Brunswick, Canada, when treated with coplanar polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners or 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. In contrast, little difference in CYP1A1 inducibility is observed between tomcod from these two rivers when treated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). We sought to determine if impaired hepatic CYP1A1 inducibility in Hudson River tomcod results from a multigenerational, genetic adaptation or a single generational, physiological acclimation. Embryos and larvae from controlled experimental crosses of Hudson River and Miramichi River parents were exposed for 24 h to water-borne PCB congener 77 (10 ppm), benzo[a]pyrene (BaP; 10 ppm), or dimethysulfoxide, and CYP1A1 expression was assessed in individual larva using competitive reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis. The CYP1A1 mRNA was significantly induced in larvae from both populations by BaP (47- and 52-fold) and PCB 77 (9- and 22-fold), although levels of expression were higher in offspring of Miramichi matings. Most important, CYP1A1 mRNA was significantly induced by PCB 77 in larvae from Hudson River parents. Concentrations of dioxin, furan, and PCB congeners were measured in livers and eggs of female tomcod from these two locales to quantify the extent of maternal transfer of contaminants. For both rivers, wet-weight contaminant concentrations were significantly higher (4-7 times) in livers than in eggs of the same females, suggesting that a threshold level of contaminants may have to be reached before CYP1A1 transcription is impaired. We conclude that reduced inducibility of hepatic CYP1A1 mRNA in adult tomcod from the Hudson River is most consistent with single-generational acclimation.