In adult rabbits, the CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 genes are expressed constitutively. Exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) leads to elevations in both CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 gene products (S. T. Okino et al., 1985, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 82, 5310-5314). In this report, we have characterized the rabbit CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 genes, and analyzed the pattern of expression of these genes in neonatal animals following exposure to TCDD. Genomic clones encoding the entire rabbit CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 genes were characterized. Restriction enzyme analysis and partial DNA sequence analysis identified the seven exons for the CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 genes. Primer extension analysis using mRNA from TCDD-treated neonatal rabbits helped confirm the start of transcription for the CYP1A genes. The length of the noncoding first exon of the CYP1A1 gene was 74 bases, compared to 90 and 88 bases for the human and rodent CYP1A1 genes. The length of the noncoding CYP1A2 gene first exon was 53 bases, similar to its counterpart in human and rodents. DNA sequence analysis of the 5' regulatory regions and comparison to the rodent and human CYP1 genes demonstrated that the rabbit CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 genes were most similar to their human orthologs. The 5' region of the CYP1A1 gene contained several consensus dioxin (Ah)-receptor responsive elements (XREs), while no functional XRE sequences were identified in the CYP1A2 gene. When expression of the two genes were monitored, a small amount of constitutive P4501A1 mRNA was detected in neonatal rabbits from the ages of 1 to 17 days, while P4501A2 mRNA levels could not be observed until 8-12 days postpartum. In response to TCDD treatment, P4501A1 mRNA levels were inducible at all neonatal time points, while P4501A2 mRNA levels could not be induced until the animals were 3-5 days postpartum. While the dioxin Ah-receptor most likely plays a major role in the induction of these genes by TCDD, early expression of the CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 genes is differentially regulated in a developmental fashion.