The kinetics for inactivation of cytochrome P450 2D6 by (1-[(2-ethyl-4-methyl-1H-imidazol-5-yl)methyl]-4-[4-(trifluoromethyl)-2-pyridinyl]piperazine (EMTPP) were characterized, and the mechanism was determined in an effort to understand the observed time-based inactivation. Loss of dextromethorphan O-demethylase activity following coincubation with EMTPP followed pseudo-first-order kinetics and was both NADPH- and EMTPP-dependent. Inactivation was characterized by an apparent Ki of 5.5 microM with a maximal rate constant for inactivation (kinact) of 0.09 min(-1), a t1/2 of 7.7 min, and a partition ratio of approximately 99. P450 2D6 inactivation was unaffected by coincubation with exogenous nucleophiles or reactive oxygen scavengers and was protected by the competing inhibitors N-4-(trifluoromethyl)benzyl quinidinium bromide and quinidine. After a 30 min incubation with 100 microM EMTPP, dextromethorphan O-demethylase activity was decreased approximately 76%, with a disproportionate loss ( approximately 35%) in carbon monoxide binding. Additional mechanistic studies showed no evidence of either metabolite inhibitory complex formation or heme adduction. However, a P450 2D6 apoprotein adduct was characterized that had a mass shift relative to unadducted P450 2D6 apoprotein consistent with the molecular mass of EMTPP (353 Da). In vitro metabolism studies revealed that EMTPP is susceptible to P450 2D6-mediated hydroxylation and dehydrogenation, postulated to both form via initial hydrogen atom abstraction from the alpha-carbon of the imidazole ethyl substituent. Additional studies demonstrated that while a dehydrogenated EMTPP metabolite was apparently stable and observable, we propose that a thermodynamic partitioning may exist, which results in formation of a second dehydrogenated imidazo-methide-like metabolite that may serve as the reactive species causing mechanism-based inactivation of P450 2D6. Last, trapping studies with EMTPP yielded an N-acetyl cysteine conjugate, which upon tandem MS and NMR analysis revealed adduction to the alpha-carbon of the imidazole ethyl substituent. Overall, evidence suggests that nucleophilic attack of an imidazo-methide-like intermediate by a P450 2D6 active site residue leads to apoprotein adduction and consequent inactivation.