One hundred and fifty-two healthy Korean volunteers were phenotyped with debrisoquine and mephenytoin and genotyped with respect to CYP2D6. The debrisoquine metabolic ratio (MR) varied between 0.09 and 6.3, and all subjects were thus classified as extensive metabolizers of debrisoquine. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based amplification of genomic DNA with primers specific for the C188-->T mutation present in exon 1 of the CYP2D6*10B allele was performed and revealed an allele frequency of 0.51 in this Korean population. Forty-three subjects (28%) were homozygous for CYP2D6*10B, 69 subjects (45%) were heterozygous for this allele, while in 40 subjects (26%) no exon 1 mutation could be found. All subjects except one homozygous for the wild type allele had MRs below 0.75 whereas the MR was higher than 0.99 in all subjects homozygous for the CYP2D6*10B allele. The MRs in the three genotype groups were significantly different (p < 0.0001; Kruskal-Wallis test). Eco RI RFLP analysis of DNA from six subjects with debrisoquine MRs < or = 0.11 revealed that only one (MR 0.09) carried a duplicated CYP2D6*Z-gene (CYP2D6*2X2) as indicated by the Eco RI 12.1 kb haplotype. It is concluded that, as shown earlier for Chinese and Japanese populations, the CYP2D6*10B-allele containing the C188-->T mutation is the major cause of diminished CYP2D6 activity in Koreans. In this Korean population, the MR of debrisoquine was shifted towards higher values (lower CYP2D6 activity) compared with Caucasian populations but the shift appeared to be less pronounced than earlier shown for Chinese. Twenty-four subjects (16%) were poor metabolizers of S-mephenytoin as indicated by the S/R mephenytoin ratio of about 1. Twenty-three of these were genotyped with respect to the defect CYP2C19-alleles CYP2C19*2 and CYP2C19*3. Of the 46 poor metabolizer alleles, 32 (70%) were CYP2C19*2 and the remaining 14 (30%) were CYP2C19*3. Thus, the defect CYP2C19*2 and CYP2C19*3-alleles explained 100% of the 23 Korean poor metabolizers of S-mephenytoin.