Valproate has been shown to interact with all major antiepileptic drugs. The interaction with phenobarbital is the most clinically significant. The mechanism of the interaction was evaluated in the in vivo rat and in vitro liver perfusion system. Phenobarbital and parahydroxyphenobarbital (PbOH) were administered with and without valproate treatment. In vivo, after administration of PbOH, valproate caused a significant inhibition of both the renal clearance of unchanged PbOH (40%) and the formation clearance (ClF) of its glucuronide conjugate (44%). When coadministered with phenobarbital, valproate caused a significant decrease in the total plasma clearance of phenobarbital (95.4 ± 29.0 to 65.8 ± 20.2 ml/hr/kg), with no apparent effect on the phenobarbital renal clearance or the ClF of PbOH. Valproate did cause a significant inhibition (50%) of formation of a minor metabolite, metahydroxyphenobarbital. The largest effect of valproate appears to be on unknown pathways of phenobarbital elimination. In the isolated perfused rat liver, the ClF of PbOH and its glucuronide conjugate were determined. Valproate caused a small (10%) but significant decrease in the ClF of PbOH. As seen in vivo, the most significant effect of valproate was on the ClF of the PbOH glucuronide (66% decrease). In conclusion, inhibition of PbOH formation by valproate cannot account entirely for the increased plasma concentrations of phenobarbital that occur when valproate is added to therapy. A complete understanding of the mechanism will require a complete accounting of the phenobarbital dose in rat or in humans.