The chemotherapeutic agent N,N',N''-triethylenethiophosphoramide (thioTEPA) is frequently used in high-dose chemotherapy regimens including cyclophosphamide. Previous studies demonstrated partial inhibition by thioTEPA of the cytochrome P4502B6 (CYP2B6)-catalyzed 4-hydroxylation of cyclophosphamide, which is required for its bioactivation. The aim of our study was to investigate the detailed mechanism of CYP2B6 inhibition by thioTEPA. Using human liver microsomes and recombinant P450 enzymes we confirmed potent inhibition of CYP2B6 enzyme activity determined with bupropion as substrate. ThioTEPA was found to inhibit CYP2B6 activity in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. The loss of CYP2B6 activity was NADPH-dependent and could not be restored by extensive dialysis. The maximal rates of inactivation (K(inact)) were 0.16 min(-1) in human liver microsomes and 0.17 min(-1) in membrane preparations expressing recombinant CYP2B6. The half-maximal inactivator concentrations (K(I)) were 3.8 microM in human liver microsomes and 2.2 microM in recombinant CYP2B6. Inhibition was attenuated by the presence of alternative active site ligands but not by nucleophilic trapping agents or reactive oxygen scavengers, further supporting mechanism-based action. Inactivated CYP2B6 did not lose its ability to form a CO-reduced complex suggesting a modification of the apoprotein, which is common for sulfur-containing compounds. Pharmacokinetic consequences of irreversible inactivation are more complicated than those of reversible inactivation, because the drug's own metabolism can be affected and drug interactions will not only depend on dose but also on duration and frequency of application. These findings contribute to better understanding of drug interactions with thioTEPA.