The mechanism of carbamazepine (CBZ)-related teratogenicity was investigated in the SWV mouse by contrasting the effects of CBZ-10, 11-epoxide (CBZE) and oxcarbazepine (OXC) treatments. Dietary CBZE administration was initiated 2 weeks before mating and continued through day 18 of gestation. OXC was administered to pregnant dams by gavage on day 6 of gestation and continued through day 18 of gestation. Maternal plasma concentrations of CBZE ranged from 1.4 to 17.7 micrograms/ml and OXC ranged from 6.1 to 15.9 micrograms/ml. In comparison, clinical plasma concentrations of CBZE ranged from 1 to 2 micrograms/ml and OXC plasma concentrations were 1 microgram/ml or less. The incidence of malformation were 14%, 27% and 26% after daily CBZE doses of 300, 600 and 1000 mg/kg, respectively, compared with a 6% incidence in no-drug control mice, P < .05. The incidence of malformation was 8% after exposure at the highest tolerable dose of OXC (1100 mg/kg/day), compared with a 5% incidence in no-drug controls, P > .05. Phenobarbital cotreatment (45 mg/kg/day) with OXC (1100 mg/kg/day) did not lead to changes in the incidence of malformation when compared with OXC (1100 mg/kg/day) dosed alone. These data are consistent with a teratogenic CBZ metabolite, possibly CBZE, or with oxidation of CBZE or CBZ at positions on the aromatic ring leading to the formation of reactive intermediates such as arene oxides or quinones.