Plasma levels and cumulative urine excretion of 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) were measured using a specific and sensitive high-performance liquid chromatographic assay in seven children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) as well as in one healthy volunteer. The dose of 6-MP varied in the range of 25-75 mg/m2 of body surface area and was administered with a standard breakfast. A 4- to 11-fold variation between individuals was found in the pharmacokinetic parameters: peak concentration, time to reach peak, area under the plasma concentration-time curve (AUC), and fraction of dose excreted in the urine. Three repeated determinations in one individual revealed that AUC also varied more than sixfold following an overnight fast. In three individuals, the reducing agents glutathione (10 mg/kg) and ascorbic acid (15 mg/kg) were coadministered with 6-MP to evaluate their possible role in the protection of 6-MP from oxidation and degradation in the intestinal lumen. No consistent effect was observed, however, on the AUCs of either of these agents. A clear relationship was found between AUCs and the 24-h urinary excretion of unchanged drug (r = 0.9381), indicating that determinations of 6-MP in the urine may replace the painful procedure of repeated blood sampling. Further studies are necessary to determine the factors contributing to the unpredictable plasma levels following oral doses of 6-MP and to determine the value of pharmacokinetic monitoring in ALL patients.