Bufuralol, debrisoquine, and dextromethorphan are three prototype substrates of the common genetic deficiency of oxidative drug metabolism in man known as debrisoquine/sparteine-type polymorphism. We describe assays for the in vitro metabolism of (+)- and (-)-bufuralol, debrisoquine, and dextromethorphan in human liver microsomes and reconstituted purified cytochrome P-450 isozymes. These assays combine nonextractive sample preparation by precipitation of protein with perchloric acid with reversed-phase inorganic ion-pair HPLC and fluorescence detection. The minimal detectable levels of the major metabolites formed are 1'-hydroxybufuralol, 0.1 ng/ml; 4-hydroxydebrisoquine, 0.8 ng/ml; and dextrorphan, 0.1 ng/ml. Formation of these metabolites is linear for at least 45 min and between 1 and 100 micrograms of microsomal protein. Comparative kinetic analysis of the three monooxygenase reactions in human liver microsomes revealed an apparent biphasicity of (+)- and (-)-bufuralol 1'-hydroxylation and dextromethorphan O-demethylation but monophasic formation of 4-hydroxydebrisoquine in the substrate concentration range (less than 1 mM) studied. These data, in combination with those obtained by purified human cytochrome P-450 isozymes indicate the involvement of the same enzyme in the metabolism of all three substrates investigated. However, additional and distinct activities contribute to the metabolism of (+)- and (-)-bufuralol and dextromethorphan.