The tryptophan photooxidation product 6-formylindolo[3,2-b]carbazole (FICZ) has been proposed as a physiological ligand for the mammalian aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), which it binds with high-affinity, inducing expression of cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1). We investigated whether the response to FICZ is evolutionarily conserved in vertebrates by measuring FICZ binding to two zebrafish AHRs (AHR1B and AHR2) and its ability to induce zebrafish CYP1 genes (CYP1A, CYP1B1, CYP1C1, CYP1C2, and CYP1D1) in vivo. Exposure of zebrafish embryos (48 h-post-fertilization; hpf) to 10 nM FICZ for 6h caused strong induction of CYP1A mRNA and a statistically significant but modest induction of CYP1B1 and CYP1C1. Neither CYP1C2 nor CYP1D1 expression was induced by FICZ under the conditions of dose, time or developmental stage examined here. CYP1A induction was significantly greater after 6 h than after 12 h of exposure to FICZ, suggesting a rapid degradation of inducer. The 6-h EC(50) values for induction of CYP1A and CYP1B1 by FICZ were 0.6 and 0.5 nM compared to 72-h EC(50) values of 2.3 and 2.7 nM for PCB126, indicating that in zebrafish embryos FICZ is a more potent inducer than PCB126. FICZ at 10 nM was able to completely displace binding of 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-1,6[3H]-dibenzo-p-dioxin to in vitro-expressed zebrafish AHR2 and AHR1B. Inhibition of AHR2 translation in zebrafish embryos by an AHR2-specific morpholino antisense oligonucleotide decreased the induction of CYP1A and CYP1B1 by FICZ and by PCB126. Together, these results demonstrate that FICZ is a potent AHR agonist in zebrafish, inducing expression of multiple CYP1 genes largely through AHR2. Evolutionary conservation of the response to FICZ is consistent with a possible role as an endogenous signaling molecule acting through the AHR.