Monotherapy with lamotrigine or carbamazepine was evaluated in a multicentre open trial of patients aged 2 years and above with newly diagnosed partial epilepsy. A total of 417 patients were randomised to treatment with lamotrigine, while 201 patients received carbamazepine. Following a dose escalation period of 6 weeks, maintenance therapy (Weeks 7-24) was adjusted according to response. Efficacy was similar with both treatments (65% with lamotrigine, 73% with carbamazepine, P=0.085). Efficacy was assessed by the proportion of patients seizure free during the last 16 weeks of treatment; all subjects who remained in the study for at least 18 weeks after the week 4 visit were included in the analysis. More patients receiving lamotrigine completed the study (81%), compared with those receiving carbamazepine (77%). This difference was primarily due to discontinuation as a result of adverse events, reported by 34 (8%) of those treated with lamotrigine but 26 (13%) of those treated with carbamazepine. The proportion of patients who experienced adverse events in the lamotrigine group was lower (218 patients, 52%) compared with the carbamazepine group (120 patients, 60%). The proportion of patients with adverse events considered to be drug related was lower in the lamotrigine group (132 patients, 32%) compared with the carbamazepine group (83 patients, 41%). Somnolence was the only adverse event reported at an incidence of greater than 5% and where there was a difference of 5% or more between treatment groups (4% lamotrigine, 11% carbamazepine patients). The small subsets of elderly patients (aged 65 years or over) and paediatric patients (aged 2-12 years) also showed better tolerability to lamotrigine than to carbamazepine. In conclusion, monotherapy with lamotrigine is as effective as carbamazepine in patients with newly diagnosed partial epilepsy. Patients were able to tolerate lamotrigine better than carbamazepine, so more patients receiving lamotrigine were able to remain on therapy.