Direct information on the distribution of a drug requires measurements in various tissues. Such data have until now been obtained in animals, or have indirectly been calculated from plasma measurements in humans using mathematical models. Here we suggest the use of positron emission tomography (PET) as a method to obtain direct measurements of drug distribution in the human body. The distribution in body and brain of vinpocetine, a neuroprotective drug widely used in the prevention and treatment of cerebrovascular diseases, was followed after oral administration. Vinpocetine was labelled with carbon-11 and radioactivity was measured by PET in stomach, liver, brain and kidney in six healthy volunteers. The radioactivity in blood and urine as well as the fractions of [(11)C]vinpocetine and labelled metabolites in plasma were also determined. After oral administration, [(11)C]vinpocetine appeared immediately in the stomach and within minutes in the liver and the blood. In the blood the level of radioactivity continuously increased until the end of the measurement period, whereas the fraction of the unchanged mother compound decreased. Radioactivity uptake and distribution in the brain were demonstrable from the tenth minute after the administration of the labelled drug. Brain distribution was heterogeneous, similar to the distribution previously reported after intravenous administration. These findings indicate that vinpocetine, administered orally in humans, readily enters the bloodstream from the stomach and gastrointestinal tract and, consequently, passes the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain. Radioactivity from [(11)C]vinpocetine was also demonstrated in the kidneys and in urine, indicating that at least a part of the radioactive drug and labelled metabolites is eliminated from the body through the kidneys. This study is the first to demonstrate that PET might be a useful, direct and non-invasive tool to study the distribution and pharmacokinetics of orally administered labelled CNS drugs in the living human body.