Bilirubin clearance is one of the numerous important functions of the liver. Defects in this process result in jaundice, which is particularly common in neonates. Elevated bilirubin levels can be decreased by treatment with phenobarbital. Because the nuclear hormone receptor constitutive androstane receptor (CAR) mediates hepatic effects of this xenobiotic inducer, we hypothesized that CAR could be a regulator of bilirubin clearance. Activation of the nuclear hormone receptor CAR increases hepatic expression of each of five components of the bilirubin-clearance pathway. This induction is absent in homozygous CAR null mice but is observed in mice expressing human CAR instead of mouse CAR. Pretreatment with xenobiotic inducers markedly increases the rate of clearance of an exogenous bilirubin load in wild-type but not CAR knockout animals. Bilirubin itself can also activate CAR, and mice lacking CAR are defective in clearing chronically elevated bilirubin levels. Unexpectedly, CAR expression is very low in livers of neonatal mice and humans. We conclude that CAR directs a protective response to elevated bilirubin levels and suggest that a functional deficit of CAR activity may contribute to neonatal jaundice.