The fate of 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA), which is used in the treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, was studied in six healthy volunteers receiving doses of 100 mg and 250 mg intravenous bolus as well as 250 mg per os (slow release). Following intravenous administration, the drug was rapidly eliminated with a plasma half-life of about 40 min, mainly due to rapid metabolism. No parent drug was recovered in feces, and the total recovery following oral administration (30%) was significantly lower than following the intravenous doses (77% and 72%). Nonlinear pharmacokinetics were suggested as the 2.5-fold increase in intravenous dose was followed by a significant relative increase (greater than 2.5) in the renal elimination of 5-ASA, as well as a significant decrease (less than 2.5) in the elimination of the metabolite N-acetyl-5-ASA. There was also a trend towards a decreasing total body clearance and metabolic ratio. The present study confirms earlier findings on the pharmacokinetics of 5-ASA and suggests a possible saturation of the N-acetylating system in the dose range studied. This may be of interest in the design of controlled-release formulations and dosage regimes for the treatment of diseases of the small-bowel, where 5-ASA is easily absorbed. Further, for the first time, a marked difference in the intestinal fate compared to the systemic fate of the drug is demonstrated, suggesting alternative presystemic metabolism of 5-ASA, which may bear relevance to its mode of action. Further studies on the pharmacokinetics of 5-ASA, preferably in patients, are warranted.