The blood-brain barrier permeability to certain 14-C-labelled purine and pyrimidine compounds was studied by simultaneous injection in conjunction with two reference isotopes into the rat common carotid artery and decapitation 15s later. The amount of 14-C-labelled base or nucleoside remaining in brain was expressed in relation to 3-H2O (a highly diffusible internal standard) and 113m-In-labelled EDTA (an essentially non-diffusible internal standard). Of the 17 compounds tested, measurable, saturable uptakes were established for adenine, adenosine, guanosine, inosine and uridine. Two independent transport systems in the rat blood-brain barrier were defined. One transported adenine (Km equals 0.027 mM) and could be inhibited with hypoxanthine. Adenosine (Km equals 0.018 mM), guanosine, inosine and uridine all cross-inhibit, defining a second independent nucleoside carrier system. Adenosine inhibited [14-D]uridine uptake more effectively than did uridine, suggesting a weaker affinity of uridine for this nucleoside carrier.