Uptake kinetics of zidovudine into cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and brain tissue were determined in adult Sprague Dawley male rats after single intravenous injection of 6.7 mg/kg (25 mumol/kg). The drug kinetics in plasma followed biexponential disposition with an initial distribution half-life of approximately 11 minutes and an elimination half-life of 40 minutes. Over the plasma concentration range of 0.2 to 10 micrograms/ml, the cerebrospinal fluid to plasma ratio averaged 14.8 +/- 1.9% whereas the mean brain tissue to plasma ratio was 8.2 +/- 1.2% (uncorrected) or 2.3 +/- 1.8% (corrected) for the brain vascular space contribution. Simultaneous nonlinear regression analysis of brain, CSF and plasma concentration data indicate that the overall rate constant for efflux of drug from brain is approximately 75-fold higher and from CSF is 8-fold higher than the respective rate constants for influx. Thus, the ratio of the efflux to influx appears to be the predominant factor in determining the net accumulation of drug into CSF and brain parenchymal tissue.