Transfected, nonsteroidogenic COS-1 cells derived from monkey kidney are found to be capable of supporting the initial and rate-limiting step common to all steroidogenic pathways, the side-chain cleavage of cholesterol to produce pregnenolone. Endogenous COS-1 kidney cell renodoxin reductase and renodoxin are able to sustain low levels of this activity catalyzed by bovine cholesterol side-chain cleavage cytochrome P450 (P450scc) whose synthesis is directed by a transfected plasmid containing P450scc cDNA. Double transfection with both P450scc and adrenodoxin plasmids leads to greater pregnenolone production and indicates that adrenodoxin plays a role as a substrate for this reaction or that bovine adrenodoxin serves as a better electron donor than the endogenous iron-sulfur protein renodoxin. Also it is found that both the bovine adrenodoxin and P450scc precursor proteins are proteolytically processed upon their uptake by COS-1 cell mitochondria to forms having the same electrophoretic mobility as mature bovine adrenodoxin and P450scc. Following triple transfection of COS-1 cells with P450scc, adrenodoxin, and 17 alpha-hydroxylase cytochrome P450 plasmids, pregnenolone produced in mitochondria by the side-chain cleavage reaction can be further metabolized in the endoplasmic reticulum to 17 alpha-hydroxypregnenolone and dehydroepiandrosterone. Although this functional steroidogenic pathway can be incorporated into this nonsteroidogenic cell type, it is found to be nonresponsive to cAMP, a potent activator of steroid hormone biosynthesis in adrenal cortex, testis, and ovary. Thus the cellular mechanisms necessary to support both microsomal and mitochondrial steroid hydroxylase activities appear not to be tissue specific, whereas the acute cAMP-dependent regulation of steroidogenesis is not present in transformed kidney (COS-1) cells.