The release of proinflammatory cytokines by endotoxins and during oxidative stress is considered to be an early key step in the pathogenesis of alcoholic liver disease (ALD). Ethanol-inducible cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1) has potentially pro-oxidative and toxicological properties, and its expression is restricted to the perivenous region of liver. We investigated zonal differences of cytokine expression in rat liver and how these are affected by alcohol exposure and by chlormethiazole (CMZ), a transcriptional and posttranslational inhibitor of hepatic CYP2E1. Periportal and perivenous cell lysates were obtained by the digitonin pulse technique from livers of rats treated with ethanol and CMZ for 38 days. Cytokine expression on the mRNA and protein levels was quantified using competitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and Western blot, respectively. Chronic ethanol treatment significantly increased the expression of CYP2E1, microsomal p-nitrophenol hydroxylase activity (indicative for CYP2E1 enzyme activity), and the expression of transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), and interleukin (IL)-1beta (1.4- to 4.6-fold). In contrast, ethanol caused a decrease in IL-4 expression and had no influence on IL-6 expression. CMZ treatment caused a reduction in hepatic CYP2E1 expression and in the ethanol-induced cytokine expression by 40% to 60%. Expression of IL-6, IL-2, and IL-4 mRNA occurred preferentially in the periportal region, whereas ethanol caused a pronounced increase in the perivenous expression of TGF-beta1, which was inhibited by CMZ as monitored both on the mRNA and protein levels. These results show the zonated expression of several cytokines and the counteraction of CMZ on all effects of ethanol on cytokine expression. The data further strengthen a link between increased CYP2E1 expression and enhanced cytokine expression as important events in the development of ALD.