Of about one dozen human P450 s that catalyze biotransformations of xenobiotics, CYP2D6 is one of the more important ones based on the number of its drug substrates. It shows a very high degree of interindividual variability, which is primarily due to the extensive genetic polymorphism that influences expression and function. This so-called debrisoquine/sparteine oxidation polymorphism has been extensively studied in many different populations and over 80 alleles and allele variants have been described. CYP2D6 protein and enzymatic activity is completely absent in less than 1% of Asian people and in up to 10% of Caucasians with two null alleles, which do not encode a functional P450 protein product. The resulting "poor metabolizer" (PM) phenotype is characterized by the inability to use CYP2D6-dependent metabolic pathways for drug elimination, which affect up to 20% of all clinically used drugs. The consequences are increased risk of adverse drug reactions or lack of therapeutic response. Today, genetic testing predicts the PM phenotype with over 99% certainty. At the other extreme, the "Ultrarapid Metabolizer" (UM) phenotype can be caused by alleles carrying multiple gene copies. "Intermediate Metabolizers" (IM) are severely deficient in their metabolism capacity compared to normal "Extensive Metabolizers" (EM), but in contrast to PMs they express a low amount of residual activity due to the presence of at least one partially deficient allele. Whereas the intricate genetics of the CYP2D6 polymorphism is becoming apparent at ever greater detail, applications in clinical practice are still rare. More clinical studies are needed to show where patients benefit from drug dose adjustment based on their genotype. Computational approaches are used to predict and rationalize substrate specificity and enzymatic properties of CYP2D6. Pharmacophore modeling of ligands and protein homology modeling are two complementary approaches that have been applied with some success. CYP2D6 is not only expressed in liver but also in the gut and in brain neurons, where endogenous substrates with high-turnover have been found. Whether and how brain functions may be influenced by polymorphic expression are interesting questions for the future.
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