Cytochrome (CYP) P450 2E1 is clinically and toxicologically important and it is constitutively expressed in the liver and many other tissues. In contrast to many other CYP isoenzymes, indisputable evidence for a functionally important polymorphism of CYP2E1 in the human population is lacking. CYP2E1 metabolizes a wide variety of chemicals with different structures, in particular small and hydrophobic compounds, including potential cytotoxic and carcinogenic agents. In addition, chlorzoxazone and trimethadione metabolism are good CYP2E1 probes for liver disease in vivo and in vitro. In the future, methods for fully analysing the function of CYP2E1 using knockout mice will be established. This article reviews recent advances in our understanding of the role of human CYP2E1 in drug metabolism.