Aminosalicylates (5-aminosalicylic acid) represent drugs of first choice in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. Two different therapeutic approaches have been employed to target the active 5-aminosalicylic acid to its site of action. Either inactive azo-prodrugs (e.g. sulfasalazine, olsalazine, balsalazide) or special galenic formulations have been developed for topical delivery of 5-aminosalicylic acid to the colon. However, as intestinal physiology, the extent of ulcerative colitis as well as drug disposition demonstrate large interindividual differences, acute healing rates (40-80%) and the maintenance of remission are quite variable. Apparently, therapeutic effects depend on local concentrations of 5-aminosalicylic acid in the colonic mucosa whereas systemic drug exposure might be one determinant of side effects. In general, 5-aminosalicylic acid is well tolerated and withdrawal from therapy is rare. Following administration of azo-prodrugs (e.g. olsalazine), lower plasma concentrations and higher delivery into the colon of 5-aminosalicylic acid can be observed in comparison to special galenic formulations of 5-aminosalicylic acid. Whether such changes in drug disposition will affect therapeutic efficacy remains to be proved by clinical data. Consequently, selection of a particular agent should be based primarily on clinical efficacy, profile of adverse effects, patients' acceptance and economic considerations.