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The naturally occurring SV23 splice variant of human constitutive androstane receptor (hCAR-SV23) is activated by di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), which is detected as a contaminant in fetal bovine serum (FBS). In our initial experiment, we compared the effect of dialyzed FBS, charcoal-stripped, dextran-treated FBS (CS-FBS), and regular FBS on the basal activity and ligand-activation of hCAR-SV23 in a cell-based reporter gene assay. In transfected HepG2 cells cultured in medium supplemented with 10% FBS, basal hCAR-SV23 activity varied with the type of FBS (regular > dialyzed > CS). DEHP increased hCAR-SV23 activity when 10% CS-FBS, but not regular FBS or dialyzed FBS, was used. With increasing concentrations (1–10%) of regular FBS or CS-FBS, hCAR-SV23 basal activity increased, whereas in DEHP-treated cells, hCAR-SV23 activity remained similar (regular FBS) or slightly increased (CS-FBS). Subsequent experiments identified a serum-free culture condition to detect DEHP activation of hCAR-SV23. Under this condition, artemisinin, artemether, and arteether increased hCAR-SV23 activity, whereas they decreased it in cells cultured in medium supplemented with 10% regular FBS. By comparison, FBS increased the basal activity of the wild-type isoform of hCAR (hCAR-WT), whereas it did not affect the basal activity of the SV24 splice variant (hCAR-SV24) or ligand activation of hCAR-SV24 and hCAR-WT by 6-(4-chlorophenyl)imidazo[2,1-b][1,3]thiazole-5-carbaldehyde O-(3,4-dichlorobenzyl)oxime (CITCO). The use of serum-free culture condition was suitable for detecting CITCO activation of hCAR-WT and hCAR-SV24. In conclusion, FBS leads to erroneous classification of pharmacological ligands of hCAR-SV23 in cell-based assays, but investigations on functional ligands of hCAR isoforms can be conducted in serum-free culture condition.FBS leads to erroneous pharmacological classification of hCAR-SV23 ligands.Artemisinin, artemether, and arteether activate hCAR-SV23 in the absence of FBS.Serum-free culture condition can be used for identifying ligands of hCAR isoforms.