The inhibitory effects of dihydroquinidine, quinidine and several quinidine metabolites on cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) activity were examined. CYP2D6 heterologously expressed in yeast cells O-demethylated dextromethorphan with a mean Km of 5.4 microM and a Vmax of 0.47 nmol/min/nmol. Quinidine and dihydroquinidine both potently inhibited CYP2D6 metabolic activity (mean Ki = 0.027 and 0.013 microM, respectively) in yeast microsomes and in human liver microsomes. The metabolites, 3-hydroxyquinidine, O-desmethylquinidine and quinidine N-oxide also inhibited CYP2D6, but their Ki values (0.43 to 2.3 microM) were one to two orders of magnitude weaker than the values for quinidine and dihydroquinidine. There was a trend towards an inverse relationship between Ki and lipophilicity (r = -0.90, N = 5, P = 0.07), as determined by the retention-time parameter k' using reverse-phase HPLC. Thus, although the metabolites of quinidine have the capacity to inhibit CYP2D6 activity, quinidine and the impurity dihydroquinidine are the important inhibitors of CYP2D6.