Diabetes-induced alterations in heme and hemoproteins, as well as its relationship to drug-mediated induction of ALA Synthase (ALA-S), were examined in female Sprague-Dawley rats. Animals were rendered diabetic by a single i.v. injection of streptozotocin (STZ, 65 mg/kg) and measurements were made at various times after treatment. The basal levels of the key enzymes involved in heme synthesis, ALA-S and ALA-dehydratase (ALA-D), were decreased about 36% and 54%, respectively, 44-46 days after diabetes induction. Furthermore, the catabolism of heme that occurs via microsomal heme oxygenase progressively decreases in activity during the course of diabetes, and reaches 69% of control in 90-day diabetic animals. The basal levels of heme, cytochromes P-450 and b5 were elevated about twofold in diabetic rats as compared with their corresponding control values. The activity of benzo(a)pyrene hydroxylase in diabetic rats was also increased in proportion to the microsomal content of cytochrome P-450. In contrast, Δ4-hydrogenase, the rate-limiting enzyme in corticosterone metabolism, exhibited a 35-65% decrease in activity throughout the experimental period. Tryptophan pyrrolase activity (total, holo-, and apoenzyme) was elevated about 2.5-fold in STZ diabetic rats. In vivo insulin therapy of diabetic animals antagonized the effect of the diabetic state on the above measured parameters. Treatment with aminoglutethimide resulted in about a twofold elevation in ALA-S activity in control as well as chronically diabetic rats. However, a similar stimulatory response in ALA-S activity to CoCl2 administration was observed only in control or insulin-treated diabetic rats. These results suggest that diabetes produced subtle and important disruption in cellular hemoprotein metabolism, possibly as a consequence of a biochemical defect in the hepatic enzymes involved in heme synthesis and/or degradation.