The role of mdr1a-encoded P-glycoprotein on transport of several fluoroquinolones across the blood-brain barrier was investigated. In vitro, P-glycoprotein substrates were selected by using a confluent monolayer of MDR1-LLC-PK1 cells. The inhibition of fluoroquinolones (100 microM) on transport of rhodamine-123 (1 microM) was compared with P-glycoprotein inhibitors verapamil (20 microM) and SDZ PSC 833 (2 microM). Subsequently, transport polarity of fluoroquinolones was studied. Sparfloxacin showed the strongest inhibition (26%) and a large polarity in transport, by P-glycoprotein activity. In vivo, using mdr1a (-/-) and wild-type mice, brain distribution of pefloxacin, norfloxacin, ciprofloxacin, fleroxacin and sparfloxacin was determined at 2, 4, and 6 h following intra-arterial infusion (50 nmol/min). Brain distribution of sparfloxacin was clearly higher in mdr1a (-/-) mice compared with wild-type mice. Sparfloxacin was infused (50 nmol/min) for 1, 2, 3 and 4 h in which intracerebral microdialysis was performed. At 4 h, in vivo recovery (dynamic-no-net-flux method) was 6.5+/-2.2 and 1.5+/-0.5%; brain(ECF) concentrations were 5.1+/-0.2 and 26+/-21 microM; and total brain concentrations were 7.2+/-0.3 and 23+/-0.3 microM in wild-type and mdr1a (-/-) mice, respectively. Plasma concentrations were similar (18.4+/-0.7 and 17.9+/-0.5 microM, respectively). In conclusion, sparfloxacin enters the brain poorly mainly because of P-glycoprotein activity at the blood-brain barrier.