The constitutive androstane receptor (CAR) activates the expression of a reporter gene attached to the phenobarbital-response element (PBRE) of the cytochrome P450 2B1 (CYP2B1) gene in response to the barbiturate phenobarbital and the plant product picrotoxin. The xenobiotic-mediated increase in transactivation occurs in transfected primary hepatocytes and in liver transfected by biolistic-particle-mediated DNA transfer, but not in the transformed cell lines HepG2, CV-1 and HeLa, which support only constitutive activation of gene expression by CAR. Steroid co-activator 1 (SRC-1) enhances both constitutive and xenobiotic-induced CAR-mediated transactivation via the CYP2B1 PBRE in transfected primary hepatocytes. The nuclear receptor 1 (NR1) site of the PBRE is sufficient for CAR-mediated transactivation, but additional sequences within the PBRE, and hence the proteins that bind to them, are required for the interaction of CAR with SRC-1. The NR2 site of the PBRE binds proteins other than CAR, including an unidentified nuclear receptor heterodimerized with retinoid X receptor alpha. By binding to the proximal promoter of CYP2B1, the transcription factor Sp1 increases both basal transcription and xenobiotic-induced expression via the PBRE. Thus induction of CYP2B1 expression by xenobiotics is mediated by the nuclear receptor CAR and, for optimal expression, requires SRC-1 and Sp1.