Bovine adrenocortical cells in primary culture were used to examine the trophic effect of ACTH on the induction of the 17 alpha-hydroxylase and C-17,20-lyase activities. The addition of exogenous pregnenolone to bovine adrenal microsomes showed the appearance of 17 alpha-hydroxy-pregnenolone before the formation of dehydroepiandrosterone. The same sequence of activities was evident in postmitochondrial supernate from bovine adrenocortical cells cultured 36 h in the presence of 1 microM ACTH but not in postmitochondrial supernate from control cells. In another study, bovine adrenocortical cells were cultured for 36 h after which 30 microM 17 alpha-hydroxypregnenolone was added to the medium and the incubation continued 1 h; there was a 4-fold increase in androgen content in the media from ACTH-treated cells over controls. Measurement of the 17 alpha-hydroxylase and C-17,20-lyase reactions in postmitochondrial supernate from cells cultured 0-72 h in the presence of ACTH or 1 mM dibutyryl cAMP showed concomitant increases in the two activities and both activities were inhibited by the same compounds known to inhibit 17 alpha-hydroxylase activity. These observations support the concept of the co-induction of 17 alpha-hydroxylase and C-17,20-lyase activities in response to ACTH; results in keeping with previous studies indicating that the two activities are catalyzed by a single gene product, the polypeptide chain P-45017a.