Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound found naturally as a glucosinolate in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, has been shown to modulate the carcinogenic process in a number of animal species. The lack of detailed information on the disposition of I3C in vivo provided the main impetus for the study reported here, in which the distribution and metabolic fate of I3C was assessed in selected tissues and excreta after po administration to rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri). Animals were fasted for 3 days and given [5-3H]I3C either in the diet or by single oral gavage (40 mg/kg body weight; 15 muCi/kg body weight). Following administration, 75% of the initial 3H-dose was detected within the stomach between 0.5 and 12 hr, after which it was released to distal regions of the gut for subsequent uptake, distribution and elimination. At the end of the study (72 hr) 25% of the administered dose was recovered from the water which reflected excretion through the gills and urinary tract. Significant excretion also occurred in the bile, with approximately 5% of the initial 3H-dose recovered from the bile sacs at 72 hr. Further analyses of the radioactive components in the bile indicated that one or more derivatives of I3C, but not the parent compound itself, are excreted as glucuronide conjugates using this route. Radioactivity accumulated in the liver throughout most of the study, reaching levels of 1-1.5% between 48 and 72 hr of the administered dose. High-performance liquid chromatography analyses indicated the presence of four main radiolabelled species in these livers, one of which co-eluted with the parent compound, I3C. The major radiolabelled species recovered from the liver was tentatively identified as the dimer, 3,3'-diindolylmethane (I33'), which comprised 40% of the total hepatic radiolabel. This dimer, I33', was also found to accumulate in the diet containing I3C, which reflected a time-dependent dimerization of the parent compound in vitro. These findings are discussed in view of recent postulates of a role for I3C condensation products such as I33' in the mechanism of I3C anti-carcinogenesis.