A subpopulation of the CF-1 mouse strain contains a spontaneous mutation in the P-glycoprotein (Pgp) mdr1a gene, which leads to a lack of mdr1a expression in the placenta as well as brain and intestine. Individual CF-1 mice can be identified according to their Pgp status by a restriction fragment length polymorphism. Male and female mice selected on the basis of Pgp genotype were mated and the pregnant dams exposed during gestation to the known Pgp substrate, L-652,280, the 8,9 Z photoisomer of the naturally occurring avermectin Bla, which is known to produce cleft palate in mice. Fetal examination demonstrated that within individual litters, fetuses deficient in Pgp (-/-) were 100% susceptible to cleft palate, whereas their +/- heterozygote littermates were less sensitive. The homozygous +/+ fetuses with abundant Pgp were totally insensitive at the doses tested. The degree of chemical exposure of fetuses within each litter was inversely related to expression of placental Pgp, which was determined by the fetal genotype. These results demonstrate the importance of placental Pgp in protecting the fetus from potential teratogens and suggest that Pgp inhibitors should be carefully evaluated for their potential to increase susceptibility to chemical-induced teratogenesis.