A series of experiments were conducted to examine the potential role of phase I metabolism in halothane-induced liver injury in the hyperthyroid rat. The metabolism of halothane was determined in both hyperthyroid (triiodothyronine, 3 mg/kg per day, for 6 days) and euthyroid rats and in animals pre-treated with the cytochrome P-450 inhibitor piperonyl butoxide (75-100 mg/kg, i.p.). It was found that the hyperthyroid state, which is associated with a substantial increase in sensitivity to the hepatotoxic effects of halothane, decreases both oxidative and reductive routes of halothane metabolism in the rat. The production of trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), an oxidative metabolite, as well as that of chlorodifluoroethylene (CDF) and chlorotrifluoroethane (CTF), 2 reductive metabolites, was significantly reduced in hyperthyroid animals. Consistent with these findings serum and urinary bromide levels resulting from the formation of TFA, CDF or CTF were significantly reduced. The only route of halothane metabolism significantly increased by the hyperthyroid condition was the defluorination of halothane. Piperonyl butoxide administration did not render euthyroid animals sensitive to the halothane-induced hepatotoxicity and had no effect on the defluorination of halothane in euthyroid animals. However, piperonyl butoxide markedly increased the hepatotoxicity of halothane in hyperthyroid rats and, except for a modest increase in debromination reactions, decreased all measured indices of halothane metabolism including the defluorination of halothane. Thus, none of the observed changes in halothane metabolism produced by triiodothyronine or piperonyl butoxide treatment could be consistently correlated to the increases in hepatotoxicity linked to these 2 treatments. Based on these studies we suggest that the halothane hepatotoxicity induced in the hyperthyroid rat results from effects produced by either the parent compound or an as yet unidentified metabolite. In addition, these studies further demonstrate that considerable mechanistic differences exist for halothane-induced hepatotoxicity when comparing euthyroid and hyperthyroid animal models.