The debrisoquine hydroxylase (CYP2D6) catalyzes the oxidative metabolism of more than 40 different clinically important drugs. The CYP2D6 gene is highly polymorphic. Defect alleles, causing the poor metabolizer phenotype, and also alleles with duplicated or multiduplicated active genes, causing ultrarapid metabolism, have been described. In the current investigation, we have evaluated the CYP2D6 phenotype (n = 115) and genotype (n = 122) among healthy Ethiopians. Only two subjects (1.8%) exhibited metabolic reaction (MR) for debrisoquine > 12.6 and were classified as poor metabolizers. A mutation in exon 1 causing a 34Pro --> Ser amino acid exchange, typical of the Chinese CYP2D6*10B (Ch1) allele and yielding an unstable enzyme, was present among 16% of the population and the carriers exhibited a high MR (0.9-5.0). Increased MR was also found among 18% of the subjects with a 107Thr --> Ile mutation associated to the CYP2D6*17(Z) allele causing diminished activity of CYP2D6 in vivo. Interestingly, 29% of the population investigated carried alleles with duplicated or multiduplicated CYP2D6 genes, indicative of ultrarapid metabolism. Xbal and EcoRI RFLP analyses identified individuals having new alleles with four or five CYP2D6*2(L) genes. Subjects with duplicated or multiduplicated CYP2D6*2 genes exhibited the lowest MR. These results suggest that the Ethiopian population, in comparison to Caucasian, Oriental and other Black populations, is genetically different with respect to the constitution of the CYP2D locus. The results also show that subjects carrying duplicated or multiduplicated active CYP2D6 genes are very common in certain ethnic groups, implicating this issue of potential global importance.