Cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1) is highly inducible in a subset of astrocytes in vivo following ischemic or mechanical injury and in vitro by lipopolysaccharide or interleukin-1β. In the present study, phorbol-12,13-dibutyrate (PDBu) was found to induce catalytically active CYP2E1 more than fourfold in cortical glial cultures. Little induction was seen up to 12 h, and full effects only at 21–24 h of PDBu treatment. CYP2E1 expression in PDBu-treated cells was enriched in a subset of astrocytes. The protein kinase C inhibitors, staurosporine and calphostin C, and the tyrosine kinase inhibitor genistein, but not its inactive analogue daidzein, prevented the induction of CYP2E1 by PDBu. It is suggested that CYP2E1, together with interleukin-6 and ciliary neurotrophic factor, is part of a response of astrocytes to cellular stress elicited by, e.g. cerebral injury, cytokines or phorbol ester, and mediated in part through protein kinase C.