Inherited deficiency in mephenytoin hydroxylation was observed in a family study. It is important that the propositus was of the extensive metabolizer phenotype for the genetically controlled hydroxylation of debrisoquine. Thus, a genetic polymorphism of drug hydroxylation was suspected for mephenytoin. A population study of mephenytoin hydroxylation, combined with identification of extensive and poor debrisoquine hydroxylation phenotypes, was carried out in 221 unrelated normal volunteers. Twelve of them (5%) exhibited defective aromatic hydroxylation of mephenytoin, and 23 (10%) could be identified as poor metabolizers of debrisoquine. Amongst these 35 subjects with a drug hydroxylation deficiency, 3 (or 0.5%; 1 female, 2 males) displayed both defects simultaneously. A panel study of 10 extensive and 10 poor metabolizers of mephenytoin showed that the ability to perform aromatic hydroxylation of the demethylated mephenytoin metabolite nirvanol (5-phenyl-5-ethylhydantoin) was co-inherited with the mephenytoin hydroxylation polymorphism. Family studies suggested that poor metabolizer phenotypes of nirvanol and mephenytoin were most likely to have the homozygous genotype for an autosomal recessive allele of deficient aromatic drug hydroxylation. Intra-subject comparison of the debrisoquine and mephenytoin hydroxylation phenotypes in these subjects indicated that deficiency in the two drug hydroxylations occurred independently. Consequently, the co-inheritance of extensive and poor hydroxylation of mephenytoin and nirvanol, respectively, represents a new drug hydroxylation polymorphism in man.