The pharmacokinetics of mianserin and its main metabolite desmethylmianserin were studied in poor and extensive metabolizers of debrisoquin and of S-mephenytoin after a single oral dose of racemic mianserin. The debrisoquin metabolic ratio (MR) correlated significantly with area under the serum concentration-time curves (AUC) for (+/-)-mianserin and (+/-)-desmethylmianserin. Enantioselective high-performance liquid chromatographic analysis of mianserin showed that debrisoquin MR was related to AUC(0-12) for S(+)-mianserin (rs = 0.87; p = 0.001; n = 15) but not for R(-)-mianserin. The ratio between the AUC(0-12) for S(+)-mianserin and that for R(-)-mianserin was higher in poor metabolizers than in extensive metabolizers. Two extremely rapid extensive metabolizer subjects had the lowest mianserin S/R ratios. No differences in the pharmacokinetics of mianserin or desmethylmianserin were found between extensive metabolizers and poor metabolizers of S-mephenytoin. The study shows that the elimination of both mianserin and its main metabolite desmethylmianserin is dependent on CYP2D6 activity. Furthermore, the CYP2D6-dependent elimination of mianserin shows marked enantioselectivity for the more active S(+)-enantiomer of mianserin.