The constitutive androstane receptor (CAR) plays an important role in regulating the expression of detoxifying enzymes, including cytochrome P450 2B (CYP 2B). Phenobarbital (PB) induction of human CYP 2B6 and mouse CYP 2b10 has been shown to be mediated by CAR. Our previous study showed that PB-induced CYP 2B1 expression in rat primary hepatocytes is down-regulated by both n-6 and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); however, the mechanism for this down-regulation by DHA was previously unknown. The objective of the present study was to determine whether change in CAR translocation is involved in the down-regulation by n-6 and n-3 PUFAs of PB-induced CYP 2B1 expression in rat primary hepatocytes. We used 100 microM arachidonic acid, linoleic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA to test this hypothesis. PB triggered the translocation of CAR from the cytosol into the nucleus in a dose-dependent and time-dependent manner in our hepatocyte system, and the CAR distribution in rat primary hepatocytes was significantly affected by DHA. DHA treatment decreased PB-inducible accumulation of CAR in the nuclear fraction and increased it in the cytosolic fraction in a dose-dependent manner. The down-regulation of CYP 2B1 expression by DHA occurred in a dose-dependent manner, and a similar pattern was found for the nuclear accumulation of CAR. The results of immunoprecipitation showed a CAR/RXR heterodimer bound to nuclear receptor binding site 1 (NR-1) of the PB-responsive enhancer module (PBREM) of the CYP 2B1gene. The EMSA results showed that PB-induced CAR binding to NR-1 was attenuated by DHA. Taken together, these results suggest that attenuation of CAR translocation and decreased subsequent binding to NR-1 are involved in DHA's down-regulation of PB-induced CYP 2B1 expression.