Genetic polymorphisms occur in many of the drug metabolizing enzymes. However, the effect of polymorphisms in the genes encoding phase II drug metabolizing UDP-glucuronosyltransferases is still undescribed, despite the many reported cases of variations in glucuronidation activities. Characterization of the UGT2B15(Y85) cDNA, which was isolated from human prostate and LNCaP cell cDNA libraries, revealed 20 nucleotide differences between UGT2B15(Y85) and the previously characterized UGT2B15 protein UGT2B15(D85). However, only one of the two variations in the coding region leads to an amino acid change from aspartic acid to a tyrosine residue at position 85. The genomic DNA of 27 subjects were analysed by direct sequencing of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products and demonstrated that UGT2B15(D85) and UGT2B15(Y85) are encoded by variant alleles prevalent in the Caucasian population. Expression of UGT2B15(D85) and UGT2B15(Y85) in HK293 cells demonstrated similar substrate specificities. Of the 65 potential substrates tested for activity, the proteins were active on phenolic compounds, coumarins, flavonoids, drugs and steroid hormones. Both proteins displayed similar Km values of 2.2 and 2.4 microM for androstane-3alpha,17beta-diol and dihydrotestosterone, respectively. However, results suggest that UGT2B15(Y85) has a higher Vmax than UGT2B15(D85). Specific reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR analysis revealed expression of the UGT2B15 gene in a wide range of extrahepatic tissues including the human liver, kidney, testis, mammary gland, placenta, adipose, skin, uterus, prostate and lung. The wide expression of UGT2B15 in many tissues indicates that it is a major glucuronidation enzyme in humans.