Curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric and curry, has antioxidative and anticarcinogenic activities. In this study, we investigated the pharmacokinetic properties of curcumin in mice. After i.p. administration of curcumin (0.1 g/kg) to mice, about 2.25 microg/ml of curcumin appeared in the plasma in the first 15 min. One hour after administration, the levels of curcumin in the intestines, spleen, liver, and kidneys were 177.04, 26.06, 26.90, and 7.51 microg/g, respectively. Only traces (0.41 microg/g) were observed in the brain at 1 h. To clarify the nature of the metabolites of curcumin, the plasma was analyzed by reversed-phase HPLC, and two putative conjugates were observed. Treatment of the plasma with beta-glucuronidase resulted in a decrease in the concentrations of these two putative conjugates and the concomitant appearance of tetrahydrocurcumin (THC) and curcumin, respectively. To investigate the nature of these glucuronide conjugates in vivo, the plasma was analyzed by electrospray. The chemical structures of these metabolites, determined by mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry analysis, suggested that curcumin was first biotransformed to dihydrocurcumin and THC and that these compounds subsequently were converted to monoglucuronide conjugates. Because THC is one of the major metabolites of curcumin, we studied its stability at different pH values. THC was very stable in 0.1 M phosphate buffers of various pH values. Moreover, THC was more stable than curcumin in 0.1 M phosphate buffer, pH 7.2 (37 degrees C). These results, together with previous findings, suggest that curcumin-glucuronoside, dihydrocurcumin-glucuronoside, THC-glucuronoside, and THC are major metabolites of curcumin in vivo.