CYP3A4 is generally believed to be the major CYP enzyme involved in the biotransformation of lidocaine in man; however, recent in vivo studies suggest that this may not be the case. We have examined the effects of the CYP3A4 inhibitors erythromycin and ketoconazole and the CYP1A2 inhibitor fluvoxamine on the N-deethylation, i.e. formation of monoethylglycinexylidide (MEGX), and 3-hydroxylation of lidocaine by human liver microsomes. The experiments were carried out at lidocaine concentrations of 5 microM (clinically relevant concentration) and 800 microM. The formation of both MEGX and 3-hydroxylidocaine was best described by a two-enzyme model. At 5 microM of lidocaine, fluvoxamine was a potent inhibitor of the formation of MEGX (IC50 1.2 microM). Ketoconazole and erythromycin also showed an inhibitory effect on MEGX formation, but ketoconazole (IC50 8.5 microM) was a much more potent inhibitor than erythromycin (IC50 200 microM). At 800 microM of lidocaine, fluvoxamine (IC50 20.7 microM) and ketoconazole (IC50 20.4 microM) displayed a modest inhibitory effect on MEGX formation, whereas erythromycin was a weak inhibitor (IC50 >250 microM). The 3-hydroxylation of lidocaine was potently inhibited by fluvoxamine at both lidocaine concentrations (IC50 0.16 microM at 5 microM and 1.8 microM at 800 microM). Erythromycin and ketoconazole showed a clear inhibitory effect on the 3-hydroxylation of lidocaine at 5 microM of lidocaine (IC50 9.9 microM and 13.9 microM, respectively), but did not show a consistent effect at 800 microM of lidocaine (IC50 >250 microM and 75.0 microM, respectively). Although further studies are needed to elucidate the role of distinct CYP enzymes in the biotransformation of lidocaine in humans, the findings of this study suggest that while both CYP1A2 and CYP3A4 are involved in the metabolism of lidocaine by human liver microsomes, CYP1A2 is the more important isoform at clinically relevant lidocaine concentrations.