It has been postulated that ethanol-induced pancreatic injury may be mediated by the oxidation of ethanol within the pancreas with secondary toxic metabolic changes, but there is little evidence of pancreatic ethanol oxidation. The aims of this study were to determine whether pancreatic acinar cells metabolize significant amounts of ethanol and, if so, to compare their rate of ethanol oxidation to that of hepatocytes. Cultured rat pancreatic acinar cells and hepatocytes were incubated with 5 to 50 mmol/L carbon 14-labeled ethanol (25 dpm/nmol). Ethanol oxidation was calculated from the production of 14C-labeled acetate that was isolated by Dowex ion-exchange chromatography. Ethanol oxidation by pancreatic acinar cells was demonstrable at all ethanol concentrations tested. At an intoxicating ethanol concentration (50 mmol/L), 14C-labeled acetate production (227 ± 20 nmol/106 cells/h) approached that of hepatocytes (337 ± 61 nmol/106 cells/h). Phenanthroline (an inhibitor of classes I through III isoenzymes of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)) inhibited pancreatic ethanol oxidation by 90%, but 4-methylpyrazole (a class I and II ADH inhibitor), carbon monoxide (a cytochrome P450 inhibitor), and sodium azide (a catalase inhibitor) had no effect. This study has shown that pancreatic acinar cells oxidize significant amounts of ethanol. At intoxicating concentrations of ethanol, pancreatic acinar cell ethanol oxidation may have the potential to contribute to pancreatic cellular injury. The mechanism appears to involve the class III isoenzyme of ADH.