To assess potential ethnic and gender-related differences in the expression of cytochrome CYP1A2-mediated activity, the pharmacokinetics of phenacetin (a CYP1A2 substrate) and its metabolite paracetamol were compared in 20 Caucasian and 20 Chinese subjects after administration of a single oral 900 mg phenacetin dose. Peak plasma concentrations and apparent oral clearance values for phenacetin did not differ between the two groups (geometric means: 3.4 micrograms/ml and 1.56 ml h-1 kg-1, respectively, for Caucasians vs. 4.7 micrograms/ml and 1.25 ml h-1 kg-1, respectively, for Chinese, after excluding one Caucasian with aberrantly low plasma phenacetin values). Pharmacokinetic parameters for metabolically derived paracetamol were also similar in the two groups. When subjects were divided into subgroups according to gender, phenacetin apparent oral clearance values were found to be lower in Chinese women compared with both Chinese men and Caucasian subjects of either sex. It is concluded that there are no major interethnic differences in the expression of CYP1A2-related activity between Caucasians and Chinese, although Chinese women as a subgroup may exhibit comparatively lower enzyme activity.