Fennel, a seed of Foeniculum vulgare, is used as a culinary spice and traditional medicine. The methanolic extract of fennel showed a characteristic of mechanism-based inactivation on erythromycin N-demethylation mediated by human liver microsomal cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4). The present study was conducted to identify the fennel constituent having the inhibition. Thirteen compounds have been isolated from a methanol extract of fennel and tested for their inhibition on CYP3A4. Among them, 5-methoxypsoralen (5-MOP) showed the strongest inhibition with an IC50 value of 18.3 microM and a mixed type of inhibition. In addition, with the preincubation time of 20 min only 5-MOP showed preincubation time dependency; the IC50 value decreased from 18.3 microM with a preincubation time of 0 min to 4.6 microM with a preincubation time of 20 min. Further investigation on 5-MOP showed the characteristics of time-dependent inhibition, requirement of NADPH, lack of protecting effect of nucleophiles, and recovery of CYP3A4 activity by the competitive inhibitor. This result suggests that the inhibitory activity of CYP3A4 by 5-MOP was a mechanism-based inactivation. The kinetic parameter for mechanism-based inactivation was characterized by a KI value of 15.0 microM and a kinact value of 0.098 min(-1).