The metabolism of dextromethorphan has been investigated from the aspect of genetically determined intersubject differences of oxidative drug metabolism in man. For this purpose, the urinary elimination of dextromethorphan and dextrorphan, which is the major O-demethylated metabolite in urine, has been studied in selected drug hydroxylation phenotypes. Dextromethorphan O-demethylation co-segregates with polymorphic debrisoquine hydroxylation, whereas no such co-segregation exists with the independently controlled mephenytoin polymorphism in man. The urinary dextromethorphan over dextrorphan metabolic ratio was validated for linearity of O-demethylation vs dose administered, and for varying urine collection intervals at different urinary pH values. A 94% repeatability of the dextromethorphan metabolic ratio could be established in extensive and poor metabolizer phenotypes. In a preliminary study, different rates of N-, O- and N,O- demethylation of dextromethorphan to yield D-methoxymorphinane, dextrorphan and D-hydroxymorphinane, respectively, were found in extensive- (Sprague-Dawley) and poor-metabolizer (female dark Agouti) rat strains. The observed interphenotype differences in man and the interstrain variations in an experimental animal model indicate that dextromethorphan O-demethylation is catalysed by the debrisoquine-type cytochrome P-450 isozyme. Therefore, the common genetic control of debrisoquine and dextromethorphan metabolism indicates that dextromethorphan might be used as a safe and innocuous substitute for debrisoquine in future routine phenotyping in the field of human pharmacogenetics of oxidative drug metabolism.