Adult male Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix) were exposed to DDE or chlordane in the diet and subsequently dosed with parathion or paraoxon. Pretreatment with 5 or 50 ppm DDE in the diet for 12 weeks resulted in increased cholinesterase (ChE) activity in plasma, but not in the brain. Dietary concentrations of 5 and 50 ppm DDE caused increased susceptibility of quail that were challenged with parathion or paraoxon. The increased mortality resulting from DDE pretreatment was reflected in brain ChE inhibition. The synergistic action of DDE was apparent after 3 days of exposure to 50 ppm DDE and 1 week of exposure to 5 ppm DDE. Birds exposed for 3 weeks to 5 or 50 ppm DDE retained their DDE-potentiated sensitivity to parathion after 2 weeks on clean diet. Chlordane pretreatment resulted in decreased susceptibility (antagonism) to parathion, but not to paraoxon dosage. Implications of differing responses in ChE and mortality among controls, DDE-, and chlordane-pretreated birds after parathion or paraoxon dosage are discussed.