Effects of a series of antihypertensive drugs on the activity of δ-aminolevulinate synthase and on the formation of porphyrins and cytochrome P-450 were examined in the 18-day-old chick embryo liver in ovo. Hydralazine, pargyline, phenoxybenzamine, clonidine, and spironolactone were found to induce δ-aminolevulinate synthase in this system. These drugs therfore have the potential to precipitate clinical expression in human hereditary hepatic porphyrias and should be avoided or used with caution in patients with these disorders. Differential effects of these and other drugs were observed in the avian liver, in that δ-aminolevulinate synthase was more commonly induced thatn were porphyrins and cytochrome -450; the synthase was usually highest 6-12 h after injection, whereas porphyrins and cytochrome P-450 were highest at 24 h. Furthermore marked porphyrin accumulation was not seen with many drugs that induce σ-aminolevulinate synthase and cytochrome P-450 but was more characteristic of compounds that reduced the metabolism of protoporphyrin to heme, such as 1,4-dihydro-3,5-dicarbethoxycollidne (DDC) and high dose of hydralazine. A sensitive and convenient method to test for capacity to induce heme biosynthesis was adapted for use in the chick embryo liver. This employed a relatively small "priming" dose (0.25 mg) of DDC given with a drug being tested and a fluorometric assay of porphyrins in a liver homogenate obtained at 24 h. This simple method should facilitate screening for those drugs which induce the synthesis of δ-aminolevulinate synthase and/or cytochrome P-450 and are potentially dangerous to patients with hereditary hepatic porphyria.