A high-performance liquid chromatographic (HPLC) assay was developed for pyrimethamine in plasma, red blood cells (RBCs), and buffer for the purpose of studying its plasma protein binding and RBC partitioning. Pyrimethamine (1000 ng/ml) was 94% bound to plasma proteins on average, depending on the pH of plasma. A comparison of the lower and upper range of plasma concentrations that would be achieved after a malaria prophylaxis dosing regimen (25 mg/week) showed that the fraction unbound was significantly lower at 120 ng/ml than at the upper plasma concentration of 360 ng/ml, 3.5 vs 4.9%, respectively. Nonlinear regression of the effect of albumin concentration (g/L) on plasma binding yielded the equation: fraction unbound = 1/[(0.421 * albumin concentration) + 1] (R2 = 0.99). There was no binding to normal levels of alpha 1-acid glycoprotein (AAG). The mean ratio of the concentration of pyrimethamine in RBCs to that in plasma (RBC:plasma ratio) was 0.42, while the mean RBC:buffer ratio was 5.2. Binding to hemolysate did not account for all of the RBC uptake, suggesting that binding to or partitioning into RBC membranes may be important. Because pyrimethamine binding depends on both albumin concentration and pyrimethamine concentration in the plasma, these studies predict greater free fractions of pyrimethamine associated with the higher doses given for toxoplasmosis (75 mg/day) and with the hypoalbuminemia associated with AIDS and malaria.