The metabolism of desflurane has been assessed both in animals and humans by measuring the appearance of fluoride metabolites (fluoride ion, nonvolatile organic fluoride, trifluoroacetic acid) in blood and urine. Desflurane administered to rats (either pretreated or not pretreated with phenobarbital or ethanol) for 3.2 MAC-hours and to swine for 5.5 MAC-hours produced fluoride ion levels in blood that were almost indistinguishable from values measured in control animals. In contrast, a significant 17% increase in plasma fluoride ion concentration in swine was detected 4 h after exposure to desflurane. In human studies, desflurane administered to patients (3.1 MAC-hours) and volunteers (7.35 MAC-hours) resulted in postanesthesia serum fluoride in concentrations that did not differ from background fluoride ion concentrations. Similarly, postanesthetic urinary excretion of fluoride ion and organic fluoride in volunteers was comparable to preanesthetic excretion rates. Small but statistically significant levels of trifluoroacetic acid were found in both serum and urine from volunteers after exposure to desflurane. Peak serum concentrations averaging 0.38 +/- 0.17 microM trifluoroacetic acid (mean +/- SD) and peak urinary excretion rates averaging 0.169 +/- 0.107 mumol/h were detected in volunteers 24 h after desflurane exposure. Although these increases in trifluoroacetic acid after exposure to desflurane were statistically significant, they are approximately 10-fold less than levels seen after exposure to isoflurane. Desflurane strongly resists biodegradation, and only a small amount is metabolized in animals and humans.