Tissue distribution of the five identified classes of human alcohol dehydrogenase was studied by assessment of mRNA levels in 23 adult and four fetal tissues. Alcohol dehydrogenase of class I was found in most tissues, brain and placenta excluded, but expression levels among tissues differed widely. The distribution pattern of class III transcripts was consistent with those of housekeeping enzymes while, in contrast, class IV transcripts were found only in stomach. Transcripts of multiple length were detected for most classes and were due to different gene products arising through the use of different poly-A signals or transcription from different gene loci. Both class II and class V showed a pattern of liver-enriched expression. However, low mRNA levels were detected also in stomach, pancreas and small intestine for class II, and in fetal kidney and small intestine for class V. Significantly higher levels of class V transcripts were present in fetal liver when compared with levels in adult liver, which suggests that human class V is a predominantly fetal alcohol dehydrogenase.