Knowledge of macromolecular distribution volumes is essential in understanding fluid transport within normal and pathological tissues. In this study in vivo we determined the distribution volumes of several macromolecules, including one monoclonal antibody, in tumours and tested whether charges associated with the tumour extracellular matrix influence their available volumes. Steady state levels of the monoclonal antibody trastuzumab (Herceptin) (pI = 9.2), IgG (pI = 7.6) as well as native (pI = 5.0) and cationized albumin (pI = 7.6) were established in rats bearing dimethylbenzanthracene (DMBA)-induced mammary tumours by continuous infusion using osmotic minipumps. After a 5-7 day infusion period, the rats were nephrectomized and the extracellular volume was determined with 51Cr-labelled EDTA. Plasma volumes were measured with 125I-labelled human serum albumin or rat IgM in a separate series. Steady state concentrations of probes were determined in the interstitial fluid that was isolated by centrifugation from tumours or by post mortem wick implantation in the back skin. Calculations were made for interstitial fluid volume (Vi), along with the available (Va/Vi) and excluded (Ve/Vi) relative interstitial volume fractions. The Ve/Vi for the positively charged trastuzumab in tumours averaged 0.29 +/- 0.03 (n = 16), a value which was significantly lower than the corresponding one for IgG of 0.36 +/- 0.02 (n = 16). Native albumin was excluded from 38% of the tumour interstitial fluid, whereas cationization of albumin reduced the excluded volume by approximately 50%. Our experiments suggest that the tumour interstitium acts as a negatively charged matrix and is an important factor in determining the macromolecular distribution volume.