Disulfiram and its reduced metabolite diethyldithiocarbamate have been identified previously as selective mechanism-based inhibitors of human liver microsomal cytochrome P450 2E1 in vitro. In animals, a single oral dose of disulfiram has been shown to produce a rapid and selective inactivation of hepatic P450 2E1 content and catalytic activity in vivo. This investigation explored the efficacy of single dose disulfiram as an inhibitor of human P450 2E1 activity in vivo. Clinical P450 2E1 activity was assessed by the 6-hydroxylation of chlorzoxazone, a metabolic pathway catalyzed selectively by P450 2E1. Six healthy volunteers received 750 mg oral chlorzoxazone on two occasions in a crossover design, 10 hours after 500 mg oral disulfiram, or after no pretreatment (control subjects). Disulfiram pretreatment markedly decreased chlorzoxazone elimination clearance to 15% of control values (from 3.28 +/- 1.40 to 0.49 +/- 0.07 ml/kg/min, p < 0.005), prolonged the elimination half-life (from 0.92 +/- 0.32 to 5.1 +/- 0.9 hours, p < 0.001), and caused a twofold increase in peak plasma chlorzoxazone concentrations (20.6 +/- 9.9 versus 38.7 +/- 10.3 micrograms/ml, p < 0.001). Disulfiram also profoundly decreased the formation clearance of 6-hydroxychlorzoxazone, from 2.30 +/- 0.93 to 0.17 +/- 0.05 ml/kg/min (p < 0.005). These findings show that a single dose of disulfiram significantly diminishes the activity of human P450 2E1 in vivo. The efficacy of single-dose disulfiram as an inhibitor of human P450 2E1 suggests that this modality for manipulating clinical P450 2E1 activity may provide a useful probe for delineating P450 2E1 participation in human drug biotransformation or for the treatment of poisoning by P450 2E1-activated toxins.