Constitutive androstane receptor [corrected](CAR) is activated by several chemicals and in turn regulates multiple detoxification genes. Our research demonstrates that parathion is one of the most potent, environmentally relevant CAR activators with an EC(50) of 1.43 microM. Therefore, animal studies were conducted to determine whether CAR was activated by parathion in vivo. Surprisingly, CAR-null mice, but not wild-type (WT) mice, showed significant parathion-induced toxicity. However, parathion did not induce Cyp2b expression, suggesting that parathion is not a CAR activator in vivo, presumably because of its short half-life. CAR expression is also associated with the expression of several drug-metabolizing cytochromes P450 (P450). CAR-null mice demonstrate lower expression of Cyp2b9, Cyp2b10, Cyp2c29, and Cyp3a11 primarily, but not exclusively in males. Therefore, we incubated microsomes from untreated WT and CAR-null mice with parathion in the presence of esterase inhibitors to determine whether CAR-null mice show perturbed P450-mediated parathion metabolism compared with that in WT mice. The metabolism of parathion to paraoxon and p-nitrophenol (PNP) was reduced in CAR-null mice with male CAR-null mice showing reduced production of both paraoxon and PNP, and female CAR-null mice showing reduced production of only PNP. Overall, the data indicate that CAR-null mice metabolize parathion slower than WT mice. These results provide a potential mechanism for increased sensitivity of individuals with lower CAR activity such as newborns to parathion and potentially other chemicals due to decreased metabolic capacity.