Bezafibrate is a known activator of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) that can activate both PPARalpha and PPARbeta. To determine the role(s) of these receptors in mediating the biological effects of this chemical, the effect of bezafibrate was examined in PPARalpha-null and PPARbeta-null mice. Wild-type, PPARalpha-null, or PPARbeta-null mice were fed either a control diet or one containing 0.5% bezafibrate for 10 days. Bezafibrate feeding caused a significant increase in liver weight in wild-type and PPARbeta-null mice compared to controls, while liver weight was unchanged in bezafibrate-fed PPARalpha-null mice. Gonadal adipose stores were significantly smaller in wild-type and PPARbeta-null mice fed bezafibrate than in controls, and this effect was not found in similarly fed PPARalpha-null mice. Analysis of liver, white adipose tissue, and intestinal mRNAs showed that bezafibrate caused similar changes of mRNAs encoding lipid metabolizing enzymes in wild-type and PPARbeta-null mice compared to controls. Interestingly, in PPARalpha-null mice, bezafibrate also induced several mRNAs previously thought to be solely controlled by PPARalpha, showing that the effects of this drug are not exclusively modulated by this PPAR isoform. Western blot analysis of liver protein was consistent with changes in mRNA expression showing that the alterations in mRNA expression correlate with protein expression in this tissue. Results from these studies demonstrate that the effect of bezafibrate is mediated in large part by PPARalpha, although some changes in gene expression are dependent on PPARbeta. In contrast to other PPARalpha ligands such as WY-14,643, induction of some target genes by bezafibrate can also be modulated in the absence of a functional PPARalpha.