Phenotyping of drug-metabolizing enzymes in adults: a review of in-vivo cytochrome P450 phenotyping probes

Pharmacogenetics. 2000 Apr;10(3):187-216. doi: 10.1097/00008571-200004000-00001.


Cytochrome P450 phenotyping provides valuable information about real-time activity of these important drug-metabolizing enzymes through the use of specific probe drugs. Despite more than 20 years of research, few conclusions regarding optimal phenotyping methods have been reached. Caffeine offers many advantages for CYP1A2 phenotyping, but the widely used caffeine urinary metabolic ratios may not be the optimal method of measuring CYP1A2 activity. Several probes of CYP2C9 activity have been suggested, but little information exists regarding their use, largely due to the narrow therapeutic index of most CYP2C9 probes. Mephenytoin has long been considered the standard CYP2C19 phenotyping probe, but problems such as sample stability and adverse effects have prompted the investigation of potential alternatives, such as omeprazole. Several well-validated CYP2D6 probes are available, including dextromethorphan, debrisoquin and sparteine, but, in most cases, dextromethorphan may be preferred due to its wide safety margin and availability. Chlorzoxazone remains the only CYP2E1 probe that has received much study. However, questions concerning phenotyping method and involvement of other enzymes have impaired its acceptance as a suitable CYP2E1 phenotyping probe. CYP3A phenotyping has been the subject of numerous investigations, reviews and commentaries. Nevertheless, much controversy regarding the selection of an ideal CYP3A probe remains. Of all the proposed methods, midazolam plasma clearance and the erythromycin breath test have been the most rigorously studied and appear to be the most reliable of the available methods. Despite the limitations of many currently available probes, with continued research, phenotyping will become an even more valuable research and clinical resource.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Molecular Probes / metabolism
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Pharmacogenetics / methods*
  • Phenotype*
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Isoenzymes
  • Molecular Probes
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System