An open study on the pharmacokinetics of lovastatin was conducted in six patients with chronic renal failure (mean creatinine clearance, 0.40 ml/sec; range, 0.20 to 0.65 ml/sec) and seven healthy subjects. Plasma levels of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme reductase inhibitory activity (total and active) and total radioactivity were determined over 168 hours after a single dose of 80 mg 14C-lovastatin. The mean area under the plasma concentration-time curve for active inhibitors were 606 +/- 346 and 282 +/- 138 ngEq.hr/ml (p = 0.04) in patients and control subjects, respectively. Total inhibitors in plasma and total radioactivity were similarly elevated in patients with chronic renal failure. Results indicate that patients with severe renal dysfunction have altered elimination kinetics of lovastatin. Current ongoing clinical studies in patients with renal dysfunction will allow better assessment of the pharmacodynamic meaning of our observations.