The role of genetic polymorphism in modulating urinary excretion of two benzene metabolites, i.e. trans,trans-muconic acid (t,t-MA) and S-phenylmercapturic acid (PMA), has been investigated in 59 non-smoking city bus drivers, professionally exposed to benzene via vehicle exhausts. Exposure to benzene was determined by personal passive samplers (mean +/- SD = 82.2 +/- 25.6 micrograms/m3), while internal dose and metabolic rate were evaluated by measuring urinary excretion of unmodified benzene (mean +/- SD = 361 +/- 246 ng/l), t,t-MA (mean +/- SD = 602 +/- 625 micrograms/g creatinine), and PMA (mean +/- SD = 5.88 +/- 4.76 micrograms/g creatinine). Genetic polymorphism at six loci encoding cytochrome-P450-dependent monooxygenases (CYP2E1 and CYP2D6), glutathione-S-transferases (GSTT1, GSTP1 and GSTM1) and NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase (NQOR) was determined by polymerase chain reaction-based methods. No evidence emerged for a possible role of CYP2E1, GSTM1 and GSTP1 polymorphisms in determining the wide differences observed in the rate of benzene biotransformation. Conversely, a significantly higher t,t-MA urinary excretion was found to be correlated to, GSTT1 null genotype, and a significantly lower PMA excretion was detected in the subjects lacking NQOR activity and in the CYP2D6 extensive-metabolizers. Many biological (i.e. age and body burden) or lifestyle factors (i.e. rural or urban residence, use of paints and solvents, medication, alcohol and coffee intake), also taken into account as potential confounders, did not influence the correlations found. These findings suggest that CYP2D6, GSTT1 and NQOR polymorphisms contribute in explaining the metabolic variability observed in our sample. Therefore, these polymorphisms should be regarded as potential risk factors for benzene-induced adverse health effects.