In the rodent liver, hepatocarcinogens inhibit the glucocorticoid induction of several liver-specific genes, including tyrosine aminotransferase (TAT). A distinct positive correlation exists in mice between the extent of inhibition of TAT induction after acute administration of o-aminoazotoluene (OAT) and the frequency of liver tumors after chronic exposure to the carcinogen. To elucidate the mechanism of the carcinogenic action, the effects of OAT on the DNA-binding activity of several transcription factors participating in the glucocorticoid regulation of TAT gene expression were studied. The experimental inbred male mice were sensitive (A/He and SWR/J, tumor induction frequency of 75-100%, TAT induction inhibition of 35-50%) and resistant (CC57BR/Mv and AKR/J, 0-6% and 10-15%, respectively) to OAT. Gel retardation experiments showed that hepatocyte nuclear factor 3 (HNF3)gamma DNA-binding activity was strongly reduced in nuclear extracts from the livers of OAT-treated A/He and SWR/J mice but only slightly reduced in CC57Br/Mv and AKR/J mice. The DNA-binding activities of Ets, AP1 family members, and GME binding proteins were unaffected. HNF3gamma DNA-binding activity was reduced by 1 h after OAT administration and remained low for 1 mo, as did inhibition of TAT induction in the liver. These results suggested that the inhibitory effect of OAT on the glucocorticoid induction of TAT is mediated by reduced HNF3gamma DNA-binding activity.