Cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2D6 is expressed in liver, brain and other extrahepatic tissues where it metabolizes a range of centrally acting drugs and toxins. As ethanol can induce CYP2D in rat brain, we hypothesized that CYP2D6 expression is higher in brains of human alcoholics. We examined regional and cellular expression of CYP2D6 mRNA and protein by RT-PCR, Southern blotting, slot blotting, immunoblotting and immunocytochemistry. A significant correlation was found between mean mRNA and CYP2D6 protein levels across 13 brain regions. Higher expression was detected in 13 brain regions of alcoholics (n = 8) compared to nonalcoholics (n = 5) (anovap < 0.0001). In hippocampus this was localized in CA1-3 pyramidal cells and dentate gyrus granular neurons. In cerebellum this was localized in Purkinje cells and their dendrites. Both of these brain regions, and these same cell-types, are known to be susceptible to alcohol damage. For one case, a poor metabolizer (CYP2D6*4/*4), there was no detectable CYP2D6 protein, confirming the specificity of the antibody used. These data suggest that in alcoholics elevated brain CYP2D6 expression may contribute to altered sensitivity to centrally acting drugs and to the mediation of neurotoxic and behavioral effects of alcohol.