Chlorzoxazone, a muscle-relaxing drug, is metabolized by carbon-hydroxylation at position 6. Chlorzoxazone has been suggested as an in vivo probe for CYP2E1. We studied the specificity of such a substrate using vaccinia virus expressed human P450 forms and the effect of inhibitors for chlorzoxazone metabolism by human liver microsomes. The 6-hydroxylation of chlorzoxazone was mediated by CYP1A2 as well as by CYP2E1. The Km value of CYP1A2 and CYP2E1 for the reaction was 5.69 microM and 232 microM, respectively. However, the Vmax value of CYP2E1 for the reaction was approximately 8.5-fold higher than that of CYP1A2. The CYP1A inhibitor, alpha-naphthoflavone, as well as the CYP2E1 inhibitor, diethyldithiocarbamate, decreased chlorzoxazone 6-hydroxylation at a low substrate concentration by human liver microsomes. Our results raise questions about the suitability of chlorzoxazone as an in vivo probe for hepatic CYP2E1 activity. In human liver microsomal samples, the Km = 40 microM was different from either the Km of CYP1A2 or CYP2E1. We think that this discrepancy is due to the co-expression of similar levels of CYP1A2 and CYP2E1 in human liver. Furthermore, it is suggested that the role of CYP2E1 in 6-hydroxychlorzoxazone formation at the physiological chlorzoxazone concentration of 30-60 microM is almost the same when compared to that of CYP1A2.