The local concentration and distribution of 1,3-bis(2-chloroethyl)-1-nitrosourea (BCNU) within normal brain tissue were studied following surgical implantation of biodegradable polymer containing BCNU in New Zealand White rabbits. Cylindrical discs of poly(bis(p-carboxyphenoxy)-propane:sebacic acid) copolymer in a 20:80 formulation were made containing [3H]-inulin or [3H]-BCNU labeled in the methylene hydrogens of the chloroethyl groups. These were implanted in the brains of 56 New Zealand White rabbits. The animals were sacrificed 3, 7, 14, or 21 days later and the brains were rapidly removed, frozen, and prepared for quantitative autoradiography. Autoradiographs from coronal sections bisecting the polymer were analyzed to determine both the proportion of the brain section exposed to the tracer and the local drug concentrations as a function of distance from the polymer. Tritiated BCNU was also injected directly into the brains of eight additional rabbits, and local brain concentrations were studied over time. The results of this study demonstrate that approximately 50% of the area of the brain sections was exposed to radiolabeled compound 3 days after BCNU-polymer implantation, 15% at 7 days, and less than 10% at 14 and 21 days. Polymer discs containing 600 micrograms BCNU generated 6 mM concentrations of BCNU in brain tissue 10 mm from the polymer at 3 and 7 days. Pharmacological studies demonstrated that approximately 25% of the tritium label was associated with intact BCNU 3 days following polymer implantation. Radiolabeled inulin delivered by polymer remained dispersed throughout the ipsilateral hemisphere for 14 days. Direct injection of [3H]-BCNU into brain parenchyma resulted in widely distributed tracer at 1 and 3 hours with rapid disappearance thereafter. It is concluded that local delivery of BCNU to brain tissue with this polymeric drug delivery system results in sustained high local concentrations of BCNU which may be of value in the treatment of patients with brain tumors.